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Pituitary Gland Tumors


The pituitary gland is often called the “master gland,” as it controls the secretion of many body hormones. It is in a bony hollow below the brain.

The different types of hormones produced by the pituitary gland:

  1. Corticotropin (also called “ACTH”) – Corticotropin tells the adrenal glands to release a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol helps control how the body uses sugar.
  2. Thyroid-stimulating hormone (called “TSH”)
  3. TSH tells the thyroid gland to release hormones called “T3” and “T4.” These hormones control how the body uses and stores energy.
  4. Gonadotropins – In females, gonadotropins signal the ovaries to release estrogen and progesterone hormones and send signals to the ovaries to prepare and release eggs. In males, these hormones send signals to the testicles to make testosterone and sperm.
  5. Growth hormone—Growth hormone helps children grow to a normal height. In adults, it helps maintain the right balance of fat and muscle in the body.
  6. Prolactin – Prolactin helps control the development of breasts. It also stimulates the breasts to make milk after giving birth.

A pituitary tumor (adenoma) arises from the pituitary gland and accounts for 10% of all intracranial tumors.

Based on size, the tumors can be of 2 types:

  • Pituitary microadenomas – lesions less than 10 mm
  • Pituitary macroadenomas – lesions more than 10 mm

Based on the type of cell, the tumors are of different types:

  1. Prolactinoma (the most common pituitary tumor) – usually causes excess production of a hormone called prolactin. This can cause milky discharge from the breasts and symptoms of low testosterone in men and low estrogen in women. (insert link)
  2. Cushing disease is due to excess production of the hormone ACTH. (insert link)
  3. Acromegaly – due to excess production of the hormone growth hormone and serum IGF-1. (insert link)
  4. Non-functioning pituitary tumors – These are tumors that do not produce excess secretion of hormones but can cause symptoms resulting from compression of important structures in the brain that surround the pituitary gland.
  5. Thyrotroph adenomas (tumors arising from the cells that produce TSH) may present as clinically nonfunctioning or cause hyperthyroidism due to increased secretion of intact thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH).

People with pituitary tumors may have one or more of the following symptoms:

  1. Impaired vision (partial or completed vision loss in one of both eyes). This might be gradual or sudden.
  2. Headache
  3. Symptoms related to pituitary hormone deficiencies caused by the tumor – the most common being hypogonadism (symptoms due to low testosterone in males or estrogen in females). (insert a link to hypopituitarism)
  4. Symptoms related to pituitary hormone excess.

Prolactinomas – due to excess prolactin production from the tumor – resulting in milky discharge from the breast and/or enlargement of the breast.

Cushing disease – due to excess production of ACTH from the pituitary tumor.

Acromegaly is due to excess growth hormone (GH) production from the pituitary tumor.

Prompt diagnosis of a pituitary tumor requires comprehensive medical evaluation. Dr Reena Thomas will help diagnose this condition by doing a detailed medical examination, sending you to get a detailed ophthalmology evaluation, and guiding you to get the appropriate blood tests. Blood tests mainly focus on whether the pituitary gland is producing excess hormones and whether any of the hormones normally produced by the pituitary gland are deficient.

She will also order appropriate radiology tests – including an MRI or CT scan of the pituitary gland. Getting the appropriate tests is important to diagnose the type of pituitary tumor and helps guide treatment strategies.

At a Glance

Dr. Reena Thomas, MD

  • Dual American board-certified endocrinologist
  • Author of numerous academic and clinic research
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