Pituitary Disorders Facts

What are pituitary tumors?

Pituitary tumors, which start in the pituitary gland, are usually benign (noncancerous) and represent up to 20 percent of all primary brain tumors. They are rare — only 10,000 people are diagnosed with this condition in a typical year, according to the American Cancer Society. Up to one in four people have this type of tumor but never display symptoms.

Getting a pituitary tumor

Pituitary tumors develop when abnormal cells in the pituitary gland (a tiny structure located at the base of the brain responsible for making or storing various hormones) grow and divide in an uncontrolled way, interfering with normal brain and hormonal functioning.

What increases your risk of a pituitary disorder?

Things that put you at higher risk for getting a pituitary disorder are called risk factors. There are very few known causes of pituitary tumors, although family history and certain genetic syndromes play a role in some cases. Risk factors include:

  • Family history: Having multiple family members with pituitary tumors, in rare cases, can dictate whether a person develops one, too.
  • Multiple endocrine neoplasia, type I: Changes in a gene called MEN1, which runs in some families, increases the risk of tumors in the pituitary gland.
  • Multiple endocrine neoplasia, type IV: A gene called CDKN1B, when it is dysfunctional, may increase the risk of pituitary tumors.
  • Carney complex is a rare syndrome that results from changes to certain genes and leads to a high risk of pituitary tumors.
  • McCune-Albright syndrome is caused by changes to a gene called GNAS1 and is associated with a higher risk of developing pituitary tumors. People with this syndrome tend to have brown skin patches and bone problems.

Pituitary tumor symptoms

Symptoms of pituitary tumors depend on which part of the gland and what hormone (if any) is being released. Pituitary tumors that grow without affecting hormonal function tend to grow larger and undetected — causing no symptoms until they press on nerves or nearby brain regions — while tumors that cause hormonal symptoms right away tend to be discovered at an earlier stage.

Since the pituitary gland is near the optic nerve, symptoms may include vision problems. Symptoms resulting from disruption in normal brain functioning include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Double vision
  • Loss of peripheral vision
  • Sudden blindness
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Weakness, pain or numbness in the face

Symptoms arising from tumors that disrupt normal hormonal functioning include:

  • Nausea
  • Unintended weight loss, gain
  • Lethargy, weakness
  • Feeling cold
  • Sexual dysfunction, lack of desire (men)
  • Menstrual problems (women)

Hormonal problems, such as overproduction of growth hormones (acromegaly) or stress hormones (Cushing syndrome) may also signal a pituitary tumor. For a full list click here.

Other medical conditions share these symptoms. If you have any of these conditions, you may need further consultation to rule out a pituitary disorder.