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Pituitary Cancer

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The pituitary gland is a small, gland present at the base of the brain. It is located just below the optic nerve. The pituitary gland is considered the boss of all glands. It secretes hormones that controls and regulates other hormone-secreting glands. The glands it controls are very important for the regulation of growth and functioning of the body.

Pituitary tumor leads to overproduction of hormones leading to various problems within the body. Thus, pituitary cancer is a serious and rare condition. The following paragraphs will cover some information related to this rare endocrine cancer.

What is Pituitary Tumor?

A pituitary tumor is the abnormal growth of cells in the pituitary gland. It is usually a noncancerous tumor and cancerous growths are very rare. Pituitary tumors occur inabout 15% to 20% people. When these tumors grow within the pituitary gland, they are called as pituitary adenomas. If these adenomas lead to over or underproduction of hormones or become large enough to press against the optic nerve, it will require immediate medical treatment.

Types of Pituitary Tumors

Pituitary tumors are grouped as:

  • Benign pituitary adenomas: These are benign tumors and not cancerous in nature. They are slow growing and do not spread to other parts of the body.
  • Invasive pituitary adenomas: These benign tumors can spread to the skull bone or sinus cavity present under the pituitary gland.
  • Pituitary carcinomas:These are malignant cancers that can spread to the central nervous system as well as other organs.

Pituitary tumors can be functioning or non-functioning tumors. In case of functioning tumors, the gland secretes more hormones than normal. This leads to the development of specific symptoms in the patient. Non-functioning tumors are those that do not secrete any hormones.

Symptoms of Pituitary Cancers

Pituitary tumors lead to symptoms only when there is direct pressure from the tumor in the optic nerve. One suffers from headaches, vision problems as there is pressure on the eye. Other symptoms due to pressure from the tumor include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Changes in or no menstrual periods
  • Body hair loss
  • Increased frequency of urination
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain

Some of the other symptoms occur when changes in the hormone levels take place.

Adrenocorticotropic hormone-secreting (ACTH) tumors

  • Overproduction can lead to Cushing’s syndrome
  • Weight gain
  • Moon face
  • Increased facial hair in women
  • Depression
  • Characteristic hump on the upper back
  • High blood sugar
  • High blood pressure
  • Thinner skin
  • Easy bruising

Growth hormone-secreting tumors

  • Excessive growth hormones can lead acromegaly
  • Enlarged hands and feet
  • Heart problems
  • Joint pain
  • Misaligned teeth
  • Increased body  hair

Prolactin-secreting tumors

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  • The most common type of secreting tumor where women may suffer from absence of menstrual cycles.
  • In some cases, non-nursing women start producing small amounts of breast milk
  • Men may suffer from impotence
  • Infertility in men and women

Thyroid-stimulating hormone-secreting tumors

  • Overproduction of thyroid hormones leads to excessive weight loss
  • Palpitations
  • Shaky hands
  • Anxiousness
  • Frequent bowel movement
  • Feeling either very hot or very cold

Causes of Pituitary Cancer

The exact cause of pituitary tumor is unknown. Studies are going on, yet nothing concrete has been discovered to understand how pituitary tumors develop.

Diagnosis of Pituitary Cancer

Pituitary cancers are often detected due to the symptoms exhibited by the patient. If the doctor suspects a pituitary tumor, many tests will be conducted to be certain about the diagnosis. After taking a detailed medical history and carrying out a physical examination, one will be asked to undergo tests such as:

  • Blood and urine tests to check hormone levels
  • Test for diabetes insipidus
  • Venous blood sampling to check for corticotropin (ACTH)- secreting adenomas
  • MRI and CT scan
  • Pituitary biopsy in rare cases

Treatment for Pituitary Cancer

The treatment depends on the size, type and how far the tumor has grown within the brain. The treatment involves a panel of doctors due to the dangerous location of the gland. The doctors will treat the tumor with the help of medications, radiation therapy or surgery.

Medications include:

  • Bromocriptin and cabergoline to reduce production of prolactin-secreting tumors
  • Domatostatin analogs for growth hormone-secreting tumors

Radiation therapy includes:

  • External beam radiation
  • Gamma Knife stereotactic radiosurgery

Surgery includes:

  • Endoscopic transnasaltranssphenoidal approach to remove the tumor
  • Craniotomy to remove large or complicated tumors

Early diagnosis and treatment is important for pituitary cancer. Or else the complications related to pituitary cancer will increase.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: April 05, 2015