Pituitary Cancer

The pituitary gland is a pea-sized, reddish gray organ in the center of the brain, just above and behind the nose. It regulates various hormones that affect most basic bodily functions.

Disorders of the pituitary gland include Cushing's disease (which causes fat to build up in the face, back and chest) and acromegaly (in which the hands, feet and face are larger than normal).

Most tumors found in the pituitary are not cancerous (benign). Tumors that are cancerous often release too many hormones into the blood.

The chance of recovery depends on the type of pituitary tumor found and the patient's age and general health.

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Symptoms

Cushing's disease causes the patient to build up fat in the upper body and to grow thin in the lower body. Other symptoms of this form of pituitary cancer may include weak muscles and bones, flushed face and high blood pressure.

Another type of pituitary cancer shows up as very large hands, feet and face (acromegaly). Yet another kind of tumor can cause the breasts to make milk, even though the patient is not pregnant.

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Diagnosis

A doctor will order lab tests to find out the level of hormones in the body. The patient may also have a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan so that a picture of the brain may be seen.

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Treatments

Surgery to remove the pituitary gland is the most common treatment. Radiation is given following surgery to kill any remaining microscopic tumors or cancer cells. Drugs may also be given to stop the production of hormones.