First, virtually all pituitary tumors are benign, that is to say they are not cancers, which is usually what comes to mind when the diagnosis “tumor” is made. They are certainly growths, hence the name tumor, and left untreated usually will get bigger. This will likely cause more symptoms and may become more complicated to treat.
The pituitary gland is a very important organ, so much so that it is called the “master gland” because it literally controls the functions of all the other endocrine (hormone-producing) glands such as the thyroid, adrenal, testis and ovaries, while also having a very key role in regulating metabolism and growth. In fact, without the pituitary or replacements for what it produces, life as we know it would not be possible. However, the pituitary is quite small, about a half-inch or the size of a kidney bean, and is located at the center of the base of the brain surrounded by very important anatomic structures.
Population studies suggest that pituitary tumors occur in about one-sixth of the population, but not all of these are symptomatic, and comprise about one-tenth of all brain tumors.
Broadly speaking, there are two types of pituitary tumors – those that are functionally-active, i.e. they produce one or more hormones in excess. Examples include, excess steroids (Cushing’s Disease), excess growth hormone (Acromegaly or Gigantism) or excess prolactin (Prolactinoma). The other category is functionally inactive, that may in fact lead to hormone deficiencies in addition to causing problems with vision as they grow. These medical conditions are relatively rare and not commonly encountered by the average physician, therefore if the diagnosis is suspected; referral to a specialist is usually made so the appropriate diagnostic tests and therapies can be initiated. These Pituitary centers will have an experienced team of key specialists, such as pituitary endocrinologists for diagnosis and medical treatment, neuroradiologists to interpret the images from MRI, neurophthalmologists who examine effects on vision, pituitary tumor neurosurgeon and ENT surgeons who jointly perform the critical surgery that may be required, as well as a host of other specialists to maximize the best outcomes.
Treatment options include medications for some functioning tumors, surgical removal of the tumor, highly-focused radiotherapy or sometimes close observation when treatment is not deemed necessary.
Most pituitary centers of excellence also have on-going clinical trials and active research programs that are advancing the field of pituitary tumor science, medicine and surgery.
For more information on how we are advancing the treatment of pituitary disorders, visit the Emory Pituitary Center website.
About Dr. Oyesiku
Nelson M. Oyesiku, MD, PhD, FACS, serves as Professor and Vice Chair, Department of Neurosurgery Director, Molecular Neurosurgery and Biotechnology Laboratory Program Director, Neurosurgery Residency Program Clinic and Co-Director of the Emory Pituitary Center. His clinical research focus is the surgical treatment and molecular biology of pituitary tumors. Dr Oyesiku has performed more than 1,500 surgeries for pituitary tumors and is one of a few surgeons in the U.S. and worldwide (and the first in Georgia) utilizing advanced 3-D endoscopic surgery for resection of pituitary tumors. This technology provides the surgeon with improved spatial resolution making surgery safer.
Dr. Oyesiku partners with Adriana Ioachimescu, MD, PhD, and a team of clinicians who collaborate in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with pituitary tumors at Emory’s Pituitary /Neuroendocrine Center. The Emory Pituitary/NeuroendocrineCenter has a nationwide and worldwide referral base and provides patients with comprehensive and personalized medical and surgical management of pituitary disorders. Specialists in Endocrinology, Neurosurgery, Neuroradiology, Neurophthalmology, Radiation Oncology, and ENT collaborate to provide state-of-the-art as well as novel advances in care and translational research.