The pituitary is a gland located in the brain. It is often called the 'master gland' because it regulates many body functions such as blood pressure, reproduction, metabolism, thyroid function and fluid levels. When tumors develop in the pituitary gland, they disrupt these functions that can have serious impacts on patients' health.
One in five people have pituitary tumors and about fifteen percent of all brain tumors are pituitary tumors. The majority of pituitary tumors are benign.
The causes of pituitary tumors are unknown, but genetics are believed to play a role. A family history of low blood sugar, adrenal tumors, pituitary tumors, stomach ulcers, hyperparathyroidism and kidney stones increase the possibility that a patient may develop a tumor.
A hereditary condition called Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia, type 1 (MEN 1) can cause tumors of the pituitary gland as well as tumors in other areas of the body. Patients with MEN 1 have a genetic mutation in their DNA that allows the tumors to develop. Symptoms of MEN1 can start in childhood but peak between the ages of 20 and 30. Women are more likely to have MEN 1 than men.
There are so many symptoms for pituitary tumors that they often go undiagnosed. However, testing for a pituitary tumor should be considered if three or more of the following apply: infertility, sexual problems, depression, galactorrhea (lactation), growth problems, osteoporosis, carpal tunnel syndrome, joint paint, irregular or absent menstruation, early menopause, easily bruise, muscle weakness or fatigue.
A pituitary tumor is diagnosed via blood work and sometimes urinalysis. An MRI may be required as well. Genetic tests can detect DNA mutations that cause pituitary tumors.
Treatment is surgery along with radiation or chemotherapy. Sometimes radiation or chemotherapy are done without surgery. In certain cases, nothing may be done other than to observe the tumor. Medication is given to replace hormones no longer produced by the pituitary.
Patients who are treated for pituitary tumors do well, although medication may be needed for the rest of their lives. Left untreated, pituitary tumors can cause high blood pressure and other health problems that can be fatal.