Pituitary Gland and Pituitary Tumors
The pituitary is a small gland attached to the base of the brain in an area called the pituitary fossa. The pituitary is referred to as the “master gland” because it controls the secretion of the majority of the hormones produced in the body. The pituitary gland monitors bodily functions and systems, sending signals to organs and glands to monitor and maintain their proper function. The pituitary gland is directly responsible for:
- Growth and proper development
- Organ function (kidneys, breasts, and uterus)
- Gland function (thyroid, gonads, and adrenal glands)
The team of industry-leading professionals at the University of Illinois, Neuro-Oncology department specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of rare and complex diseases and conditions, including a variety of tumors that form in high-risk locations. Our team implements state-of-the-art technology and treatment methods to help patients receive care that they are unable to find anywhere else.
The majority of pituitary adenomas are benign and are slow-growing, relatively speaking. Adenomas are one of the most common diseases that affect the pituitary gland, most commonly found in patients aged 30-40 years old. Tumors that produce hormones are called functioning adenomas, while those that do not are called non-functioning adenomas.
Symptoms of Pituitary Tumors
The symptoms of a pituitary tumor, other than the pressure created by its growth, typically result from endocrine dysfunction. Because of the pituitary gland’s location within the skull, tumors often compress important brain structures as they grow. The most common occurrence involves the compression of the optic nerves, gradually leading to loss of vision, starting with peripheral vision loss on both sides.
Experiencing three or more of the following symptoms is a likely indication that a pituitary tumor is forming, the list includes:
- Vision problems
- Nausea or vomiting
- Impaired sense of smell
- Sexual dysfunction
- Growth disorders
- Unexplained weight gain/ loss
- Easy bruising
- Aching joints
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Disrupted menstruation
- Early menopause
- Muscle weakness
Diagnosing Pituitary Tumors
Physical examinations and vision testing are used as initial diagnostics for pituitary tumors. Secondary testing involves sampling blood for indicators in hormone levels, while diagnostic imaging of the brain is used to confirm the diagnosis. The most accurate diagnostic imaging test is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Early intervention offers patients the greatest chance for removal or control of a pituitary tumor and its side effects. There are three main types of treatment used for pituitary tumors: surgically remove the tumor, radiation therapy, and medication therapy to shrink or eradicate the tumor.
Transsphenoidal surgery accesses the tumor through the nasal cavity using either a microsurgical or endoscopic technique. Surgery is performed with the use of computer guidance, allowing a minimally invasive approach. Transsphenoidal surgery is the ideal procedure for small “functional” adenomas.
Transsphenoidal surgery is minimally invasive, poses few side effects, and allows for rapid patient recovery. Patients can often leave the hospital as early as two to three days after surgery. A craniotomy is less commonly used and reserved for particularly large and invasive tumors which cannot be safely removed through the transsphenoidal route.
Radiation is extremely effective in stopping tumor growth and, with time, will lead to tumor shrinkage. Radiation therapy may be an effective option if the tumor does can not be treated effectively with medication or surgery.
What is Stereotactic Radiosurgery?
Stereotactic Radiosurgery (SRS) is a treatment method that focuses high doses of radiation at a tumor or the target while limiting the exposure of radiation to the surrounding normal tissue. Though it is called “surgery”, no knife or scalpel is used. The treatment may be useful for tumors that are in places where conventional surgery would harm essential tissue, for example, in the brain or spinal cord, or when a patient’s condition does not permit conventional surgery.
Pituitary Tumor Treatment at the University of Illinois, Chicago
If you are experiencing symptoms associated with pituitary tumors or have already received a diagnosis and are looking for a team of experts to provide a second opinion, unparalleled treatment, and condition management, reach out to the University of Illinois Neuro-Oncology Department today.