Living With Pituitary Tumor
Last Updated: September 2, 2023
Many people associate tumors with cancer, and it is natural to worry about your overall health and life expectancy when diagnosed with one. Pituitary tumors comprise about 17% of all intracranial tumors and can develop in people of all ages, usually in adults aged between 30 and 40 years old.
How can a pituitary tumor impact your overall quality of life, health, and life expectancy? Here is a comprehensive overview of what living with a pituitary tumor entails.
What Is a Pituitary Tumor?
The pituitary gland (also sometimes called the master gland) is a pea-sized structure located at the base of the brain. It regulates hormonal blood levels by controlling the secretion of most of the body's hormones. The pituitary gland functions to directly impact growth, development, and organ function.
A pituitary tumor or adenoma is a mass that originates from pituitary gland tissue. The tumor develops when cells of the pituitary grow and multiply out of control. These tumors grow gradually and can cause pressure symptoms when they become too large, or if they secrete excessive amounts of hormones. In the United States, there are approximately 10,000 new cases of pituitary tumor diagnosed every year.
Pituitary tumors are categorized into two types: functional and non-functional tumors. Functional pituitary tumors actively produce hormones, while non-functional ones do not.
Is a Pituitary Adenoma Curable?
Fortunately, most pituitary tumors are treatable and can be kept under control. The available treatment options include:
Surgery entails removing as much of the tumor as possible without damaging the surrounding organs and healthy tissue. This is the most common line of treatment for most types of pituitary tumors and is recommended if the pituitary tumor is causing symptoms due to overproduction of hormones or is pressing against the optic nerves.
Radiation therapy uses intense radiation beams to destroy the pituitary tumor's cells. The types of radiation therapy recommended for pituitary tumors include:
- Stereotactic Radiosurgery
- External Beam Radiation
- Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT)
- Proton Beam Therapy
Doctors may recommend radiation therapy after surgical treatment to inhibit the growth of any tumor remnants. If surgery is too risky or cannot be tolerated, radiation therapy is a reasonable treatment option that may be used on its own.
In some cases, doctors may prescribe medications to shrink the tumor and normalize the body's hormone levels. Medications are the first line of treatment for tumors that secrete the hormone prolactin (prolactinoma), and it is typically all that is needed to shrink the tumor and resolve symptoms. Hormone replacement therapy is also recommended for tumors that inhibit normal hormone production or to maintain normal hormone levels after removal of the tumor.
Can You Live a Normal Life With a Pituitary Tumor?
Your chances of living a normal life with a pituitary tumor depend on the tumor's type, size, and symptoms. Here is an overview of what to expect living with an untreated or recurring pituitary tumor. It is important to note that most patients with a pituitary tumor live a normal life.
Symptoms of Pituitary Tumors
Some of the most notable and common pituitary tumor symptoms include:
- Blurred vision and partial visual decline
- Delayed or irregular growth in children
- Low testosterone levels and low libido in men
- Irregular or delayed menstruation in women (menstrual cycles may also stop altogether)
- Unexpected weight gain (obesity)
- Muscle weakness and fatigue
- Skin fragility (the skin bruises easily)
- Loss of appetite
- Decreased mental function
- Low blood pressure
- Suppressed sense of smell
- Nausea and vomiting
- Headaches and aching joints
- Abnormal growth of hands, jaws, and feet in adults
- Unusual breast secretions
These symptoms can affect various aspects of your everyday life in different ways. For example, vision impairment and muscle weakness can make it difficult to walk and avoid obstacles. These symptoms may come on gradually, making it difficult to perceive deficits until they have become severe. Because these symptoms affect multiple bodily systems, it can also be a challenge to pinpoint a pituitary tumor as the cause early in the diagnosis process.
On the flip side, some pituitary tumors are so small that they do not produce symptoms. Some individuals may never know that they have a pituitary tumor or may discover it incidentally during imaging of the head for an unrelated reason.
Quality of Life and Survival Rates
A person’s quality of life depends on the severity of symptoms and outcomes following treatment. While some individuals may be living with an undiagnosed pituitary tumor without symptoms, others may suffer from a multitude of symptoms caused by the large size of the tumor or hormonal imbalances.
Following successful treatment, patients often can have improved symptoms and quality of life. In most cases, individuals who are appropriately treated can resume their daily lives and the diagnosis of a pituitary tumor rarely affects life expectancy. People living with pituitary tumors have an overwhelmingly positive survival rate. Survival rates also depend on your age, other underlying diseases, and the tumor's type, size, and symptoms.
Follow-up Care After Treatment
Pituitary tumors have a 16% recurrence rate over 10 years after the initial surgery/treatment, and 10% of patients require follow-up retreatment. Your neurosurgeon or endocrinologist may recommend regular tests (yearly MRI and more frequent blood tests and/or visual exams) to continuously monitor the tumor and restart treatment if the tumor recurs. It is also advisable to monitor your overall health and consult a doctor after experiencing one or more symptoms.
Managing & Easing the Impacts of Pituitary Tumors on Your Life
In general, maintaining a balanced diet and a physically active lifestyle is critical for your overall health. Experts recommend balanced diets containing protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and fats. Dietary recommendations for a healthy diet usually include the following foods:
- Red meat
- Dairy products
- Wholemeal bread
Physical exercise may help prevent pituitary tumors (and many other conditions) and manage some of their symptoms. Doctors and fitness experts mostly recommend aerobic exercises.
Pituitary tumors are relatively common and usually develop in more than 10,000 Americans annually. Many people live normal, healthy lives with undiagnosed tumors. However, functional (hormone producing) or large tumors may cause many problematic symptoms that decrease your overall quality of life. Fortunately, pituitary tumors are treatable, and patients must undergo continuous follow-up care and treatment to manage their condition, follow the administered treatment option's long-term effects, and monitor tumor recurrence.