Barnes-Jewish & Washington University Neuroscience Center is recognized as a leader in the region for the treatment of pituitary tumors. Our surgeons provide a full range of treatment including surgical tumor removal, minimally invasive endonasal surgery and Gamma Knife radiosurgery.
Understanding Pituitary Tumors
Pituitary tumors are abnormal growths found in the pituitary gland, which is located at the base of the brain. The pituitary gland makes hormones that affect growth and function of other glands in the body. Pituitary tumors are generally benign, slow-growing and do not spread to other parts of the body. A pituitary tumor can affect how many hormones the pituitary gland produces, which can lead to other problems in the body.
Cushing’s disease is often associated with a pituitary tumor. Patients experience an excess of fat built up in the face, back and chest while the arms and legs become very thin. Another disorder related to pituitary tumors is acromegaly, in which the hands, feet and face are larger than normal.
Common Conditions Caused by Pituitary Tumors
Acromegaly is a metabolic disorder caused by an excess of growth hormone from the pituitary gland. This chronic condition can result in:
- Enlargement of the hands, feet, face and skull
- Excessive height
- Muscle weakness
- Slurred or deepened speech
- Joint pain
- Thickening of the skin
- Widely spaced teeth
In more than 90 percent of acromegaly patients, the overproduction of growth hormones is caused by a benign tumor of the pituitary gland, called an adenoma.
A prolactinoma is a benign tumor of the pituitary gland. This type of tumor produces an excessive amount of prolactin, which is a hormone that effects breast milk production in women. Prolactinomas are the most common type of pituitary tumor.
In women, prolactinomas cause irregular or absent menstruation, unexpected breast milk production and a reduced libido (sex drive). Because of these symptoms, prolactinomas in women are commonly discovered early, while the tumor is still small.
In men, the tumor typically is not noticed until the size of the tumor becomes problematic. In some cases, men may experience enlarged breasts, but more common symptoms include loss of libido, headache or vision loss (from the tumor compressing the optical nerve).
A TSH-producing adenoma is a pituitary tumor that causes excess TSH, or thyroid-stimulating hormone. TSH stimulates the thyroid gland to produce hormones responsible for metabolism, and organ growth and function. When too much TSH is continuously produced, the thyroid gland can become overactive (hyperthyroidism).
TSH-producing adenomas are relatively rare, accounting for only 1-3 percent of all pituitary tumors. Symptoms can include weight loss, fast heartbeat, anxiety, hand tremor, insomnia, fatigue, headache, vision loss or loss of menstrual periods (in women).
Treatment for Pituitary Tumors
Treatment can involve either removing the tumor, using medication to control the tumor, or both. Medications also might be needed to restore hormone levels affected by the diseased pituitary gland.
Gamma Knife surgery is an effective technique in pituitary tumor cases. Gamma Knife equipment allows a targeted beam of radiation to pinpoint the tumor, all without making a single incision. Getting extremely accurate results while avoiding surgery in the brain results in better recoveries for many patients.
A new procedure performed by neurosurgeons and otolaryngologists (ear, nose and throat specialists) offers tumor removal through the nose, rather than through large incisions in the head. This endonasal, skull-base surgery results in fewer complications and a quicker recovery time for most pituitary tumor patients. Patients typically go home three days after surgery with little to no pain. The procedure does not require nose packing, which is a concern of many patients. Some patients report a temporary feeling of nasal congestion, such as with a common cold.
National Leaders in Patient Care
Barnes-Jewish & Washington University Neuroscience Center neurologists and neurosurgeons work together to provide expert care, diagnosis, education and treatment for pituitary tumor patients.
For a referral to a Washington University neurologist or neurosurgeon at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, call