A pituitary tumour is an abnormal growth of cells in the pituitary gland situated inside the brain. This is a small gland found inside the skull just below the brain and above the nasal passages.

The pituitary is also called the “master control gland”. This is because it produces the pituitary hormones that control the levels of hormones made by most of the other endocrine glands in the body.

Types of pituitary tumours

Different types of pituitary tumours are:
  • Nonfunctional adenomas (null cell adenomas)
  • Prolactin-producing tumours (prolactinomas)
  • ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) producing tumors
  • Growth hormone-producing tumours.
Almost all pituitary tumours are benign (not cancer) glandular tumours called pituitary adenomas. These tumours are called benign because they don’t spread to other parts of the body as cancers can. Still, even benign pituitary tumours can cause significant health problems because they are close to the brain. They may invade nearby tissues like the skull or the sinuses. Some pituitary tumours may make excess hormones. Pituitary cancers (called pituitary carcinomas) are very rare.


The symptoms of a pituitary gland tumour can be due to over production of hormones or due the pressure it affects on surrounding structures . The symptoms related to pituitary tumours depend on the type of tumour and the pituitary gland’s affected area. These tumours can lead to symptoms caused by too much or too little of the pituitary hormones. Each person’s symptoms may vary.
Examples of symptoms experienced:
  • Headache
  • Some loss of vision
  • Loss of body hair
  • In women: there may be less frequent or no menstrual periods or no milk from the breasts
  • In men: loss of facial hair, growth of breast tissue, and impotence
  • In children: slowed growth and sexual development
The primary causes of pituitary tumours are unknown. Risk factors that can increase someone getting a pituitary tumour are usually related to genetics. Genetic conditions such as multiple endocrine neoplasia type I and IV (MEN 1 and MEN4), McCune-Albright syndrome, and Carney complex are known to raise the risk.


Your physician will diagnose if you have a pituitary tumour using several tests including:
  • medical history
  • physical examination
  • visual field examination
  • neurological examination
  • blood tests
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans
  • computed tomography (CT) scans


The possible treatment for pituitary tumours depends on your age, overall health, and medical history.
Treatment may include:
  • medical treatment for selected tumours like prolactinomas
  • surgery to remove the tumour (this is often a better option for smaller tumours
  • external radiation (external beam therapy) that sends high levels of radiation right to the cancer cells
  • radiosurgery (stereotactic radiosurgery)
  • gamma knife treatment that uses one high dose of radiation sent right into the cancerous tissue
  • different types of medicine to control how the tumour makes growth hormone.
Sometimes a combination of treatments is used. For example, surgery may remove some of the tumour, while drugs can relieve the symptoms and sometimes shrink the remaining tumour. Standard treatment plans differ by tumour type.
The recovery and rehabilitation from treatment will take a few weeks. If you had surgery through your skull, you would probably feel exhausted for several weeks after surgery. You may also have headaches or problems concentrating. It can take up to 6 weeks to fully recover. The cuts the doctor made (incisions) may be sore for about five days after surgery.

Prominent research in this field

Mifepristone in Children with Refractory Cushing’s Disease.
Researchers at NIH want to learn if mifepristone improves Cushing’s disease in children as it does in adults. Eligible participants will receive 12 weeks of mifepristone (there is no placebo) followed by a 12-week off-medication observation period.
An Investigation of Pituitary Tumours and Related Hypothalamic Disorders.
The purpose of this study is two-fold. Fellows and students at the NIH Clinical Center will observe and learn from children with pituitary tumours. The research study aims to include developing new clinical studies for the detection and treatment of pituitary tumours. It will also study the inheritance pattern of pituitary tumours in childhood.
Defining the Genetic Basis for the Development of Primary Pigmented Nodular Adrenocortical Disease (PPNAD) and the Carney Complex.
This study will use clinical testing for endocrine and non-endocrine diseases and genetic testing to define the genetic basis for PPNAD and the Carney Complex. It will determine any molecular changes, identify and determine the prognosis for carriers of the disease, and provide sufficient data for genetic counselling.
Assessment of Sensitivity of the Hypothalamic GnRH Pulse Generator to Estradiol and Progesterone Inhibition in Early Pubertal Girls (JCM026).
The purpose of this study is to evaluate how GnRH and LH pulses are controlled during puberty. It looks to learn more about how menstrual cycles are usually established in girls during puberty.