Do you or someone you know have a pituitary tumor? If so, you may be wondering why it’s so hard to treat them.
Treatments for pituitary tumors have improved dramatically in the past 10 years, but they are still imperfect. It is often very difficult to decide where to start. Read the blog till the end to find out why.
What Is Pituitary Gland?
The pituitary gland is a small endocrine gland located in the center of the forehead, just above and between the eyes. The pituitary is part of the endocrine system, which includes hormones that are produced by glands and released into the bloodstream to control various body functions.
The pituitary gland is attached to the hypothalamus by an infundibulum (plural = infundibula). The hypothalamus regulates many body functions, including sleeping and waking cycles, thirst, hunger, and body temperature. It also produces hormones that regulate sexual development during puberty and reproductive functions throughout life.
What Are The Two Parts Of Pituitary Gland?
The pituitary gland is a very important part of the endocrine system. It has two parts:
Anterior Pituitary Gland
The anterior pituitary gland makes hormones that control the number of other hormones produced by other glands. For example, if you have an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism), your body will produce too much thyroid hormone. In this case, the anterior pituitary gland must produce less thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) so that the thyroid gland will stop making too much T4.
The anterior pituitary gland also produces adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). ACTH stimulates the production of cortisol by the adrenal cortex, and LH stimulates ovulation in women and sperm production in men.
Posterior Pituitary Gland
The posterior pituitary gland is also known as the neurohypophysis. It doesn’t make hormones itself; instead, it stores and releases hormones produced by the hypothalamus. These hormones are called oxytocin and vasopressin. The hypothalamus makes these hormones in response to a stimulus, such as when you eat or drink something cold. When the hormone enters the bloodstream, it travels to its target organ.
Oxytocin stimulates uterine contraction during childbirth, lactation (milk production), bonding between mother and child, and sexual arousal in both men and women. Vasopressin helps regulate water balance in the body by increasing urine production through increased blood pressure when fluid levels drop too low, or conversely by decreasing urine production when fluid levels rise too high (as with dehydration).
Types Of Hormones Produced By Pituitary Gland
The pituitary gland produces many types of hormones. The six most important hormones produced by the pituitary gland are:
Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH)
ACTH stimulates the adrenal cortex to produce glucocorticoids like cortisol and cortisone, as well as mineralocorticoids like aldosterone (which controls blood pressure). ACTH also stimulates the production of sex hormones by the gonads (testes or ovaries) and supports their function in males and females. In males, ACTH supports sperm production; in females, it regulates menstrual cycles.
Growth Hormone (GH)
The production of growth hormone is controlled by the hypothalamus and anterior pituitary. Growth hormone is released in pulses throughout the day, with most being released during the night while you’re asleep. Growth hormone stimulates cells to produce IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor), which is a protein that helps to support cell growth and proliferation. It also helps to regulate blood sugar levels, which makes it important for metabolism.
Prolactin is a hormone that helps with milk production during breastfeeding. It also plays a role in sexual arousal, sleep, and body temperature regulation. Prolactin is released by the pituitary gland, a small gland located at the base of your brain. The pituitary gland regulates many other hormones, including growth hormone and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). Prolactin levels can be measured in blood tests to assess whether you have high levels of this hormone due to an underlying condition such as hyperprolactinemia or hyperprolactinemia.
Source: MSD Manuals
Melanocyte-Stimulating Hormone (MSH)
Melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH) is a peptide hormone that stimulates the production of melanin pigments by melanocytes. It belongs to the family of hormones called melanotropins, which also includes alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (α-MSH) and β-endorphin. MSH is produced in specialized neurons in the anterior pituitary gland (an organ located below the brain) and regulates the body’s response to UV radiation, inflammation, stress, and trauma.
Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone (TSH)
Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) is a pituitary hormone that stimulates the thyroid gland to produce two hormones, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). TSH release is regulated by the hypothalamus, which monitors blood levels of thyroid hormones. When thyroid hormone levels fall too low, the hypothalamus increases TSH secretion by the anterior pituitary gland. When thyroid hormone levels rise too high, the hypothalamus reduces TSH secretion by reducing its release of TRH.
Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH)
Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) is a hormone produced by cells in the pituitary gland. It stimulates the ovaries to produce estrogen, and it also stimulates sperm production by the testes. FSH is part of a group of hormones called gonadotropins. The other gonadotropins are luteinizing hormone (LH) and prolactin. These hormones are involved in reproduction and other functions, such as making breast milk.
What Functions Does A Pituitary Gland Perform?
The pituitary gland receives messages from other parts of the brain and from hormones in the bloodstream. These messages tell it when to release its own hormones. The endocrine system uses hormones to communicate between different organs and tissues of the body.
One of its main roles is to produce growth hormone and prolactin, which are important for normal growth in children and for lactation in women. The pituitary gland produces six hormones that control other glands in the body and regulate growth, metabolism, sexual function, pregnancy, and childbirth.
The pituitary gland is divided into two sections: the anterior lobe and the posterior lobe. The anterior lobe produces hormones that affect the thyroid and adrenal glands (located near the kidneys), as well as growth hormones. The posterior lobe produces hormones that affect reproductive organs, including thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), and luteinizing hormone (LH).
The pituitary gland also produces growth factors that stimulate cell division and regulate blood pressure by controlling fluid retention in tissues.
What Is A Pituitary Tumor?
When you hear that someone has a brain tumor, you probably think of a brain tumor. The truth is that there are several types of tumors that can be found in the brain and pituitary gland.
Pituitary tumors are not common, but they account for about 30 percent of all cancers in the brain. They tend to grow slowly and do not spread to other parts of the body.
Source: Health Jade
The majority of tumors affecting the pituitary gland are noncancerous (benign). However, some can be cancerous. Even so, they can be life-threatening if they press on nearby nerves or blood vessels and cause problems with vision or hormone production.
The most common signs and symptoms of a pituitary tumor include:
- Headaches, which may be severe
- Sudden weight gain
- Changes in vision, such as blurry vision or double vision (diplopia)
- Problems with sleeping or staying asleep (insomnia)
- Poor appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dry mouth, dry eyes, or both
- Enlarged thyroid gland (goiter)
- Changes in mood and behavior, including depression and irritability
- Changes in menstrual cycles, including irregular periods and missed periods (amenorrhea).
- Problems with concentration and memory
- Excessive sweating or excessive thirst
- Increased urination or frequent urination at night
Pituitary tumors can affect every part of the body. They often grow slowly, causing no symptoms for many years.
Who Is At Risk Of Developing A Pituitary Tumor?
In general, anyone can develop a pituitary tumor. But some people are at higher risk than others.
Source: Medico Experts
Recent studies about the risk factors of developing a pituitary tumor have brought to light the following facts:
- Most people who develop a pituitary tumor are in their 30s or 40s. The condition is rare in children and teenagers, but it can affect people of any age.
- A family history of tumors may increase your risk of developing one.
- Women are twice as likely as men to develop a pituitary tumor. However, this difference may be due to the fact that women live longer and have more opportunities to develop the disease.
Why The Treatment Of A Pituitary Tumor Is Hard?
A pituitary tumor can be hard to treat because the normal function of the pituitary gland is so complex. The hypothalamus and pituitary gland work together to produce hormones that control everything from growth and reproduction to blood pressure, appetite, mood, and body temperature.
When you have a pituitary tumor, however, it may be difficult for your doctor to determine which hormone it is secreting. This makes it difficult to know what type of treatment might be right for you.
Pituitary tumors can also be difficult to treat because they can affect different parts of the body at different times. The same tumor may cause symptoms in one part of the body at one time and in another part at another time. In addition, many people with a pituitary tumor have other medical problems such as diabetes mellitus or hypertension (high blood pressure). This makes it difficult for doctors to determine whether their symptoms are caused by the tumor or by these other medical problems.
Here are some other reasons that make the treatment of a pituitary tumor even harder:
Anatomy Can Complicate Treatment
The treatment of a pituitary adenoma can be difficult because of the location, size, and delicate nature of this gland. A surgeon must be careful not to damage any surrounding nerves or blood vessels while removing the tumor. If there are large amounts of pressure on areas that control important functions, surgery may not be an option.
Source: Operative Neurosurgery
Surgery Is Risky
The risk associated with surgery for a pituitary tumor includes bleeding and infection. Damage to surrounding tissues and nerves may also occur during surgery if proper precautions are not taken by the surgeon performing the procedure. In addition, some pituitary tumors cannot be removed completely because there isn’t enough room for surgeons to work safely within this small area of the brain without damaging other vital structures like nerves or blood vessels that supply parts of the brain with oxygenated blood (supply).
Radiation Is Risky
The most common treatment for a pituitary tumor is radiation therapy. But this treatment has its drawbacks. Radiation therapy can cause damage to the optic nerve, which may result in vision loss. It can also cause damage to the brain stem, which could lead to problems with balance and speech. If you have radiation therapy, your doctor will put a shield over your eyes to protect them from the radiation. You may also need to take steroids after radiation therapy so that your body does not react negatively to the treatment.
You Can’t Access All Of The Tumor With Medication.
In some cases, doctors might try to shrink a pituitary tumor with medication before they try more aggressive treatments. This approach is successful in about half of all patients, but it does not work for everyone because you can’t access all of the tumors with medication alone. For example, medications can shrink prolactinomas, but they can not shrink growth hormone-producing tumors (adenomas). Similarly, medication will not work at all for nonfunctioning tumors which produce no hormones at all (empty sella syndrome).
How Can We Treat A Pituitary Tumor?
Treatment of pituitary tumors depends on the type of tumor and its location. If the tumor is small and noncancerous, your doctor may recommend observation or surgery to remove it. If it’s large or malignant, your doctor will recommend radiation therapy or chemotherapy.
Source: NSPC Brain And Spine Surgery
Pituitary Tumor Surgery
Surgery is the most common treatment for a benign pituitary adenoma that has grown large enough to affect vision or pituitary hormone levels. The procedure involves removing the entire tumor along with any surrounding tissue that may be affected by the tumor. The surgeon also removes the normal pituitary gland tissue that was damaged by the adenoma during its development. In some cases, surgeons may need to remove part of the sella turcica (the bony cavity in which the pituitary gland sits). This surgery usually takes between one and three hours.
Most people have surgery once every 1-3 years for several years until all their tumors are removed. If there are too many tumors for surgery, radiation therapy may be used instead. Radiation therapy might also be used if you need additional treatment after surgery or if you have had previous radiation therapy before having surgery.
Source: Moffitt Cancer Center
Pituitary Tumor Radiation Therapy (Radiotherapy)
Radiation therapy is a common treatment for pituitary tumors. It is most often used for pituitary tumors that are inoperable, meaning they cannot be surgically removed. Radiation therapy is not as effective for small tumors as it is for larger ones. It works best when used along with surgery to remove the tumor.
Radiation therapy will shrink the size of the tumor so that it’s less likely to cause symptoms and make other treatments more effective. In addition to shrinking tumors, radiation therapy can also destroy any remaining cancer cells left behind after surgery. This reduces the risk of a recurrence of the tumor later on.
The amount of radiation depends on how large the tumor is and how close it is to important organs like your brain.
The side effects of radiation therapy depend on how much radiation you get and where it hits your body. You may feel tired or have trouble sleeping after treatment because of the fatigue caused by radiation damage to normal cells in your body (radiation sickness). These effects will go away over time as the damaged cells repair themselves or die off.
Source: Miskawaan Health Group
Medical And Hormonal Treatment For Pituitary Tumors
Medications are used to shrink prolactinomas, reduce symptoms such as headaches or visual disturbances that result from increased pressure in the brain caused by the tumor growth, and reduce the risk of developing diabetes or high blood pressure. These medications include:
Bromocriptine reduces prolactin levels by blocking dopamine receptors in the pituitary gland (the part of your brain that produces hormones). This medication is usually taken twice a day for six months or longer. It has few side effects but can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fatigue, weakness, and headaches. Rarely, it may lead to depression or suicidal thoughts if taken over long periods of time or in high doses.
Cabergoline also reduces prolactin levels by blocking dopamine receptors in the pituitary gland. This medication is usually taken once a week for six months or longer. It has few side effects but can cause nausea and vomiting.
Doctors also often use drugs to control hormone levels if your tumor makes too much of a certain hormone. For example:
It reduces ACTH production in the pituitary gland and thus reduces cortisol production by the adrenal glands. Cortisol helps maintain blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Corticosteroids also shrink the pituitary tumor by reducing its blood supply and interfering with its ability to make hormones.
They stop the release of LH and FSH from the pituitary gland, which reduces testosterone production by the testicles and estrogen production by the ovaries. GnRH agonists also shrink the pituitary tumor by reducing its blood supply, as well as interfering with its ability to make hormones.
Source: Harvard Health
Lifestyle Adjustments For Pituitary Tumors
If you have a pituitary tumor and experience symptoms, your doctor will want to evaluate your condition and determine the best treatment options. The following lifestyle adjustments may be helpful:
Eat a healthy diet.
A balanced diet is important for everyone, but especially for those with pituitary tumors. Your doctor may recommend specific dietary changes depending on the type of tumor you have and its location within the pituitary gland. For example, if you have acromegaly (a type of growth hormone excess), your doctor may recommend eating fewer carbohydrates and less sugar to help regulate your blood sugar levels. If you have diabetes insipidus (another type of growth hormone excess), then drinking plenty of water may help relieve some symptoms.
Regular exercise helps reduce stress levels, which also helps lower your risk for developing high blood pressure or heart disease — two conditions that can worsen with age as well as increase the risk for developing certain types of tumors like pituitary adenomas (benign tumors).
Make sure you get enough sleep.
Sleep deprivation can affect the balance of hormones in your body. This can make your symptoms worse — and even cause new ones. Try to get at least eight hours of sleep each night.
Avoid stress as much as possible.
Stress can also affect hormone levels in your body, which could make your symptoms worse or cause new ones. If you have trouble controlling your stress levels, talk with a counselor or other health professional about how best to manage them so that they don’t become a problem for you or others around you.
Conclusion & Takeaway
Treating a pituitary tumor can be frustrating if the exact cause of the tumor is unknown. But once a diagnosis has been made, it is not impossible for you to overcome this aggressive condition. No matter where you are in your journey to healing, it’s important to know that there are resources out there to help you address questions and concerns that may arise during your treatment.
In the end, the biggest lesson to take away from this is that your body is a complex and often-mysterious system. It’s hard to predict how well a treatment will work on a specific patient or how much of an impact a single factor will have overall. The treatment of medical conditions is never simple—it is safe to say that complexity is always involved.
However, if you want to get the best treatment for a pituitary tumor, Houston Endocrine Center is the best option available for you.
We understand the weight of the world upon your shoulders when it comes to pituitary tumors and the treatment options available. If you have any further questions about what we offer for pituitary gland disorders, please contact us, and we will help you in any way we can.