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What is a pituitary adenoma?

Strictly speaking pituitary adenomas aren’t brain tumours, but they have many similar symptoms and side-effects.

If you or someone you know has just been diagnosed with a pituitary adenoma, you may be worried about what this means. This is a natural way to feel. Our Support and Information team can help answer any questions you may have or provide a listening ear if you need one.

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, a pituitary adenoma 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.

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What are the symptoms of a pituitary adenoma?

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

Hormone production

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 in men and women 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

Size of the tumour

The growth of a pituitary adenoma 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 are pituitary adenomas treated?

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

BRIAN is our trusted online app where you can track your experience, compare it with others who’ve been there and get the knowledge you need to make informed decisions.

Download our BRIAN app on the App Store    Download our BRIAN app on Google Play

Click here to visit the BRIAN website

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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How long can I live with a pituitary adenoma?

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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Get support

If you need someone to talk to or advice on where to get help, our Support and Information team is available by phone, email or live-chat.

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

You can also join our active online community - Join our online support groups.