A pituitary tumour is a growth or lesion on the pituitary gland. It can have grown from the actual gland, or may have come from somewhere else. Generally, tumours are benign.
The pituitary gland is called the master gland. It is a small gland about the size of a pea, which secretes hormones. The hormones send messages to other glands in the body that control growth, metabolism, sexual maturity, reproduction, energy levels and general wellbeing.
The gland is located at the base of the brain, behind the eyes and nose.
A pituitary tumour can affect you in a variety of ways, including:
- over or under producing a specific hormone
- stopping production of a specific hormone
- placing pressure onto the gland or surrounding brain tissue, nerves or blood supply.
Possible signs and symptoms of a pituitary tumour include:
- persistent headaches
- visual disturbances
- gradual loss of vision
- nausea and vomiting
- loss of sex drive
- menstrual irregularities
- changes to appearance
- problems with thinking
- dizziness on standing
To accurately diagnose you with a pituitary tumour, your doctor will refer you to a specialist neurosurgeon, endocrinologist or ophthalmologist. You will be given a full examination, your hormone levels will be tested, and you will be sent to have a CT or MRI scan.
Treatment depends on the size and type of the tumour, your age and general health. There are three types of treatment of the tumour—medication therapy, surgery to remove the tumour and radiation therapy that uses high dose X-ray beams to kill tumour cells.
Medication therapy is always the first line of treatment. The type of medication prescribed depends on the type of tumour and the type of hormones it secretes. Medication therapy is monitored by an endocrinologist.
Tumours that are very large and not controlled by medication therapy will require surgery. There are two types of surgery—transphenoidal resection (through the nose) or craniotomy (through an incision in the skull). The type of surgery performed is determined by the neurosurgeon who will assess the shape and position of the tumour.
Radiation therapy kills abnormal pituitary cells to shrink the tumour. It is generally used when medication therapy is ineffective and the tumour cannot be surgically removed.
If you are having surgical treatment, you will be admitted to hospital. Surgery is generally performed on the day of admission and you will be required to stay in hospital for between five and ten days after the procedure. You will need to take six weeks off after the operation to fully recover, before you return to work.
Recovery after any surgery is different for every person. You may feel tired, and may tire quite easily. Make sure you rest adequately. You may also experience headaches, and your doctor will generally prescribe analgesics for this. You will also be required to take steroids after the procedure until your doctor advises you they are no longer necessary. You will not be able to drive a car until you are reviewed by your doctor four to six weeks after the procedure.
Most patients find their symptoms improve after treatment. How quickly you recover depends on your general health, age, and if the entire tumour is removed. If you experience any of the following symptoms following your operation, visit your doctor as soon as possible:
- increased headaches
- decline in vision
- increased urine output
- increased thirst
- fluid leaking from your nose
- any weakness or numbness.
In some cases, the tumour can return. This depends on how much was able to be removed in surgery, or if it has spread to surrounding brain tissue.
There are several websites containing detailed information about pituitary tumours, listed below.
This information should be used as a guide only, and if you have any questions or concerns, you should always speak to your doctor.
Mater Private Hospital Brisbane
301 Vulture Street, South Brisbane QLD 4101
General Enquiries Telephone 07 3163 8111
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Mater acknowledges consumer consultation in the development of this patient information.
Mater Doc Num: HOSP-005-00640
Last modified 12/11/2015.