Pituitary tumours are a relatively common type of brain tumour. Most are benign and can be treated successfully.
Surgery is not always necessary. At Macquarie Neurosurgery & Spine, you will receive treatment from a team of specialists who have extensive experience in the management of pituitary tumours.
What is the pituitary gland, and what does it do?
The pituitary is a pea-sized gland that is attached to the base of the brain.
Often described as the “master gland”, the pituitary regulates the secretion of most of the body’s hormones. (Hormones are chemical messengers that fulfil a specific function in the body).
The pituitary fulfils its role as “master gland” by producing the following hormones:
- Growth Hormone (GH).
This hormone is responsible for growth. It also helps to regulate the metabolism.
- Antidiuretic hormone (ADH).
ADH prompts the body to conserve water.
- Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH).
ACTH activates the release of cortisol and aldosterone by the adrenal glands. Cortisol plays a crucial part in the metabolism, as well as the body’s stress response. Aldosterone helps to maintain water and sodium balance.
Prolactin stimulates the production of breast milk.
- Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH).
TSH prompts the thyroid gland to release thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones regulate the metabolism and have an effect on almost every organ.
- Luteinizing Hormone (LH) and Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH).
These hormones regulate the production of sex hormones in both men and women. They play an important part in coordinating a woman’s menstrual cycle.
- Melanocyte Stimulating Hormone (MSH).
MSH controls the production of melanin, the dark pigment that is produced in the skin in response to sun exposure.
The pituitary gland also stores and releases oxytocin, a hormone that plays an important role in childbirth, breastfeeding and human bonding.
What are the symptoms of a pituitary gland tumour?
Most pituitary gland tumours are benign growths called adenomas.
Pituitary adenomas can cause symptoms if the tumour presses on surrounding structures in the brain. By pressing on cranial nerves, a pituitary tumour could cause visual symptoms such as decreased peripheral vision, blurred or double vision or a drooping eyelid. An adenoma could also affect the sense of smell. As with other brain tumours, a pituitary adenoma could cause headaches and nausea or vomiting.
Pituitary adenomas can also cause symptoms related to the hormonal functions of the pituitary gland. A pituitary adenoma may interfere with the gland function, so that production of various hormones is impaired.
In some cases, an adenoma may produce excess amounts of a particular hormone – this can also cause symptoms. A hormone-producing pituitary tumour is called a functional adenoma. Functional adenomas typically involve increased secretion of prolactin, ACTH or growth hormone.
When a pituitary adenoma leads to a hormonal imbalance, it could cause symptoms such as:
- Sexual dysfunction
- Menstrual irregularities
- Production of breast milk in a woman who is not pregnant or breastfeeding
- Growth problems
- Unexplained weight gain or weight loss
- Muscle weakness
How is a pituitary tumour treated?
Pituitary adenomas may be treated with medication, surgery or radiation. In some cases, “watchful waiting” may be an acceptable treatment option, if the adenoma is not causing symptoms.
Medication can be used to control symptoms and shrink a functional pituitary adenoma. In some cases, no further treatment is required. Non-functional pituitary adenomas, or functional adenomas that have not responded well to medication, usually require surgery or radiation.
If surgical treatment is chosen, a pituitary adenoma can often be removed via the nasal cavity (trans-sphenoidal surgery). This minimally invasive surgical approach has fewer complications and a faster recovery than open brain surgery.
Radiation can also be used to safely treat a pituitary adenoma. At Macquarie Neurosurgery & Spine, our specialists are use a form of stereotactic radiotherapy, known as the Gamma Knife. Gamma Knife treatment targets the adenoma with extreme precision, without damaging surrounding brain tissue.