Basic information for topics, such as “What is it?” is available in the About Pituitary Tumors section. Answers to other frequently asked questions (FAQs) specific to pituitary tumors are in this section.
Pituitary tumors can cause a variety of complications.
If a tumor grows large enough, it can press on and damage the optic nerves, impair vision, or even cause blindness. Large tumors also can press on the brain or the vessels that bring blood to the brain.1
Occasionally, surgery to remove a tumor will stop the pituitary gland from producing a particular hormone. In this case, the patient will have to take a hormone medication to replace the hormone that is no longer being produced.1
It is possible for tumors that have been removed to return. Therefore, patients should continue to have a healthcare provider monitor their condition after they get treatment.
Several conditions are associated with pituitary tumors1:
- Multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN 1) syndrome2 is a rare, inherited disorder that causes tumors in the parathyroid and pituitary glands and the pancreas. The tumors are usually benign, or noncancerous. The tumors cause the gland or organ to secrete too much of a particular hormone. Depending on the hormone, too much of it can result in kidney stones, fertility problems, and severe ulcers. Occasionally, the tumors in the pancreas can turn into cancer. Find out more about MEN 1.
- Carney complex3 is a rare, inherited disorder that causes dark spots on the skin and tumors in the heart, endocrine glands (including the pituitary), skin, and nerves.
- Acromegaly4 is a condition that occurs when the pituitary gland makes too much growth hormone after normal growth of the skeleton is finished. This causes the bones of the hands, feet, head, and face to grow larger than normal. Pituitary tumors can cause this condition. Find out more about acromegaly.
- McCune-Albright syndrome is a disease that causes abnormalities in the bones, skin, and endocrine (hormone) system. It is caused by a gene change (or mutation) that occurs by chance. This means it cannot be passed on to offspring. McCune-Albright syndrome can cause pituitary tumors.5
- Cushing syndrome is caused by exposure to too much of the hormone cortisol. Pituitary tumors are one of several factors that can cause Cushing's syndrome.6 Symptoms include upper-body obesity, severe fatigue and muscle weakness, high blood pressure, backache, elevated blood sugar, easy bruising, and bluish-red stretch marks on the skin. Women may have increased growth of facial and body hair, and their menstrual periods may become irregular or stop completely. People with Cushing's syndrome may also experience neurological symptoms like memory problems.
Pituitary tumors usually do not spread to other parts of the body. They normally grow very slowly. In very rare cases, pituitary tumors are malignant. These malignant tumors, called pituitary carcinomas, can spread to other areas of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) or outside of the central nervous system.1
Pituitary tumors in children are almost never malignant.7
Some types of tumors may make it difficult for women to become pregnant. A type of pituitary tumor called a prolactinoma is the most common type of pituitary tumor. Prolactinomas are five times as common in women as in men and can cause irregular periods and infertility. However, a doctor can prescribe medications that correct the high levels of prolactin secreted by prolactinomas.8 These medications can restore regular periods and, thus, fertility in most patients.9
Irregular periods or infertility can also be caused by nonfunctioning tumors, but unlike prolactinomas, nonfunctioning tumors do not secrete hormones. Instead, their size or position can damage the pituitary gland and prevent it from secreting enough of certain hormones.10 Too little secretion is called hyposecretion. Hyposecretion can lead to decreases in the sex steroids required for pregnancy.9 Nonfunctioning pituitary tumors are common, accounting for about one-third of cases.11
Talk to your doctor about treatment options if you have a pituitary tumor and want to get pregnant.
Depending on their type and size, pituitary tumors sometimes cause pregnancy complications. Occasionally, pregnancy can cause tumors to grow larger, making symptoms more likely. Certain tumor types can increase the risk of diabetes and high blood pressure.
Doctors usually recommend that women stop taking medications for tumors when they become pregnant. However, if symptoms from pituitary tumors occur, it is possible to take certain medications during pregnancy. Most medications do not appear to harm the fetus.
If you have pituitary tumors and plan to become pregnant, talk to your doctor about your options.12
- National Cancer Institute. (2011). Pituitary tumors treatment (PDQ). Retrieved February 28, 2012, from https://www.cancer.gov/types/pituitary/patient/pituitary-treatment-pdq#section/all
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2009). Multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1. Retrieved June 14, 2012, from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/endocrine-diseases/multiple-endocrine-neoplasia-type-1
- MedlinePlus.(2020). Carney complex. Retrieved December 17, 2021, from https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/condition/carney-complex/
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2008). Acromegaly. Retrieved June 14, 2012, from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/endocrine-diseases/acromegaly
- MedlinePlus. (2010). McCune Albright syndrome. Retrieved March 23, 2012, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001217.htm
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2010). NINDS Cushing's syndrome information page. Retrieved March 2, 2012, from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/all-disorders/cushings-syndrome-information-page
- Keil, M. F., & Stratakis, C.A. (2008). Pituitary tumors in childhood: Update on diagnosis, treatment and molecular genetics. Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics. 8, 563−574.
- MedlinePlus. (2011). Prolactinoma. Retrieved March 23, 2012, from https://medlineplus.gov/spanish/ency/article/000336.htm
- Medscape Reference: Drugs, Diseases and Procedures. (2011). Pituitary disease and pregnancy. Retrieved March 23, 2012, from http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/127650-overview#aw2aab6b3
- The Hormone Foundation. (2012). Non-secretory tumors. Retrieved March 23, 2012, from https://www.hormone.org/diseases-and-conditions/pituitary/pituitary-tumors
- American Cancer Society. (2018). What Are Pituitary Tumors? Retrieved May 15, 2018, from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/pituitary-tumors/about/what-is-pituitary-tumor.html
- Bronstein, M. D., Paraiba, D. B., & Jallad, R. S. (2011). Management of pituitary tumors in pregnancy. Nature Reviews Endocrinology, 7, 301−310.