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Pituitary adenoma

Pituitary adenomas aren’t brain tumours, strictly speaking, but they have many similar symptoms and side-effects. These tumours form in the pituitary gland and are usually slow-growing and harmless. In fact, it’s estimated that up to 1 in 5 people will develop them at some point.

If you or someone you know has just been diagnosed with a pituitary adenoma, you may be worried about what this means. This is completely natural and we understand. That’s why our Support Team is here to help answer any questions you may have or provide a listening ear if you need one.

On this page we’ll answer:

What is a pituitary adenoma?

A pituitary adenoma is a tumour that develops from the tissue of the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is found towards the base of the brain. It controls other glands within the body that in turn control many of the body’s functions.

Pituitary adenomas are quite common, with 1 in 5 people estimated to have one at some point in their life. They are:

  • usually slow-growing
  • usually don’t spread
  • usually harmless.

In some cases however, they can cause more serious symptoms.

Strictly speaking pituitary adenomas aren’t brain tumours. Although the pituitary gland is attached to the base of the brain and affects brain function, it’s not technically part of the brain. 

However, pituitary adenomas cause many similar symptoms and side-effects to many brain tumours. They can also grow upwards and press on the brain and its nerves.

For these reasons, all our support services are available to people with pituitary tumours. And, if you’d like specialised support, please contact The Pituitary Foundation.

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What are the pituitary adenoma symptoms?

Pituitary adenomas can cause symptoms either by affecting hormone production or by a large tumour pressing on surrounding brain tissue.

Below we’ll discuss the pituitary adenoma symptoms related to both of these.

How hormone production affects pituitary adenoma symptoms

Our hormones regulate many important bodily functions and processes. Symptoms will depend on which hormone is affected. Possible symptoms of hormone-producing adenomas include:

From over-production

  • Loss of menstrual periods in women
  • Lowering of testosterone in men, leading to loss of sexual appetite
  • Acromegaly in adults or gigantism in children, which causes extreme growth spurts
  • Unexpected weight gain
  • Easy bruising of the skin and muscle weakness

From under-production

  • Loss of sex drive and infertility
  • Hypothyroidism, causing appetite loss, weight gain, fatigue and decreased mental function
  • Adrenal insufficiency, which can cause fatigue, low blood pressure, electrolyte abnormalities
  • Growth hormone insufficiency which can cause delayed puberty and in adults tiredness and loss of muscle mass
  • disorder of the endocrine system in which the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone

How the size of the tumour affects pituitary adenoma symptoms

The growth of this type of tumour can put pressure on surrounding tissue, especially the optic nerve, causing vision loss or loss of peripheral (side) vision and other related problems. An increase in the pressure surrounding the optic nerve can be identified during an eye test.

Pituitary adenomas can also cause many of the same symptoms as other brain tumours.

Find out more

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How is a pituitary adenoma treated?

Pituitary adenoma treatment depends on the symptoms or tumour itself.

If the only symptom relates to the levels of hormones produced, this can be managed by medication and is usually arranged by a neuro-endocrinologist.

If the size or growth of the tumour is of concern, then neurosurgery may be required. The surgery can be non-invasive by using instruments inserted through the nose.

Alternatively, stereotactic radiosurgery can be used to very accurately target the tumour with radiation. This causes much less damage to the healthy brain cells around the tumour than regular radiotherapy.

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What treatment do people diagnosed with a pituitary adenoma have first?

If you’ve just been diagnosed with a this type of tumour and are about to have treatment, you may want to see what other people’s first treatment was. Use the First Treatment insight in BRIAN, which you can personalise to make it relevant to you.

What causes pituitary adenomas?

We don’t fully understand what causes pituitary adenomas, although we do understand some of the risk factors involved.

It’s important to know that there is nothing you could have done, or avoided doing, that would have caused you or somebody you know to develop a brain tumour.

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Pituitary adenoma life expectancy

For most people, treatment can control or remove the tumour giving you a normal lifespan. But you may have to deal with its consequences, such as vision or hormonal issues.

It’s also hard not to worry about the tumour growing or coming back. It can help to talk to others in a similar situation about how they have learned to live with this uncertainty.

Our online brain tumour support groups are a great way to connect with other people who’re affected by a brain tumour or you could find a local support group.

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If you have further questions, need to clarify any of the information on this page, or want to find out more about research and clinical trials, please contact our team:
Support and Information Services
0808 800 0004 Free from landlines and mobiles
Phone lines open Mon-Fri, 09:00-17:00
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