Pituitary Cancer

What is Pituitary Cancer?

The pituitary gland is small, bean-shaped and pea sized gland, located directly behind the eyes and below the front of the brain. The pituitary gland is of major importance in functioning of the body organs and glands. The hormones it produces help regulate important functions such as growth, blood pressure and reproduction.

The uncontrolled cell growth in the pituitary gland, creating a tumor results in the pituitary cancer. The tumors may be noncancerous (benign). Cancerous pituitary tumors are extremely rare.

Signs and Symptoms

There are many possible signs and symptoms of a pituitary tumor, including:

  • Extra hormones in the blood
  • Flushing of the face
  • Weak muscles and bones
  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Headache
  • Vision loss
  • Large hands and feet (acromegaly)
  • Breast milk even if not pregnant
  • Lack of milk when breastfeeding
  • Menstrual cycle changes
  • Lower sex drive
  • Impotence
  • Loss of body hair
  • Delayed sexual development and growth in children
  • Weight gain
  • Bruising easily
  • Irritability, anxiety, depression
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Runny nose due to cerebrospinal fluid leaking into the nose

What causes Pituitary Cancer?

The causes or risk factors of pituitary cancer are unknown. Some pituitary cancer cases observed are due to genetic syndromes and some cases run in families, but most have no apparent hereditary factor.

How to diagnose Pituitary Cancer

Early diagnosis is always better to determine the appropriate treatment thereby minimizing the risks, pain and side effects too.

The most common diagnosing methods include:

  • Blood and urine tests: These tests can be used to determine hormone levels.
  • MRI or CT scans: The scans detect tumors in the pituitary gland.
  • A cancerous tumor is recognized based on the extent to which it spreads into another part of the body.

Pituitary cancer is most likely to spread to the different parts of the body like brain, spinal cord, meninges (brain and spinal cord covering), nearby bone and is very rare for pituitary cancer to spread to the lungs, heart, or liver.

During diagnosis, tumors are staged and each stage is determined by how large the cancer is and if it has spread to any other parts of the body. Staging helps to formulate a treatment plan and also to determine prognosis. As pituitary cancer is very rare, there are no particular guidelines for staging.

Treatment for Pituitary Cancer

Determining the appropriate treatment for pituitary cancer depends on tumor size and the locations if it has spread.

As there is no staging system, doctors must try to determine whether the tumor:

  • Is a microadenoma (less than 10 mm) or a macroadenoma (more than 10 mm)
  • Produces hormones
  • has spread to other sites

Surgery: This is the most appropriate treatment for pituitary cancer. Removing the pituitary gland is usually followed by radiation therapy. To kill few cancerous cells which are left behind during surgery are treated with radiation. In some cases, drug therapy is used to shrink or destroy the tumor.

Can Pituitary Tumors be prevented?

As the cause of pituitary tumors remain unknown so there is no known way to prevent these tumors. Some people are at high risk of pituitary tumors. In such conditions, finding different ways to find and treat them early can be possible, before they cause problems.

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