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Recovery Outlook for Pituitary Tumors

Last Updated: January 7, 2023

A pituitary tumor is an abnormal growth of cells in the pituitary gland. This gland is located at the base of the brain and controls the production of body hormones. Pituitary tumors are usually benign, meaning they are not cancerous but can cause serious health problems if they grow and press on surrounding tissues or produce high levels of pituitary hormones. According to recent statistics from Cancer.Net, pituitary gland tumors will affect about 13,870 Americans accounting for around 17% of all primary brain tumors.

Prognosis of pituitary tumors refers to a doctor's estimate of the likely course and outcome of a person's illness. The doctor bases this estimate on information about the person's past health, the type of pituitary tumor, and how far the tumor has grown.

Understanding the prognosis of a pituitary tumor can help patients and their families make informed decisions about treatment and follow-up care. This comprehensive guide will provide key information about the prognosis of pituitary tumors, including survival rates, pituitary adenoma life expectancy, and how long you can live with a pituitary tumor.

What Is the Prognosis of Pituitary Tumors?

In general, the prognosis of pituitary tumors is good. Most pituitary tumors are non-cancerous (benign) and can be successfully treated with surgery, radiation therapy, or medication. However, in some rare cases, pituitary tumors can act more aggressively to recur or every exceedingly rarely be cancerous (malignant) and spread to other parts of the body.

Pituitary cancer is rare, accounting for less than 1% of all pituitary tumors. Cancerous pituitary tumors are more challenging to treat and have a poorer prognosis than benign pituitary tumors.

When not treated early enough, pituitary tumors can grow and press on surrounding tissues or produce uncontrollably high level of hormones, causing severe health problems, including vision loss, fatigue, obesity, growth problems, and hormonal imbalances. 

Pituitary Adenoma Life Expectancy

A pituitary adenoma is a common pituitary tumor accounting for about 10% to 15% of all brain tumor cases. While these tumors are more common in people in their 30s or 40s, they can also rarely affect children. Because most of these tumors have an excellent prognosis, they can be easily treated through surgery, radiation therapy, or medication.

Most people with a pituitary adenoma will not experience any symptoms, and the tumor will be found incidentally during an MRI or CT scan performed for other reasons. When symptoms do occur, they are often caused by the pressure of the tumor on the surrounding structures, including the optic nerves (causing visual problems) and the abnormally high production of hormones by the tumor.

Most adenomas are non-functioning, meaning they do not secrete excess hormones. However, some adenomas will secrete excess ACTH, GH, prolactin, or other hormones, leading to a variety of hormone-related symptoms.

Many people with adenomas lead a normal lifespan with no long-term effects from the tumor. There are currently medical, surgical, and radiation therapy options available to keep pituitary tumors under control and therefore most patients suffering from pituitary tumors enjoy normal lives and normal lifespans.

Is Pituitary Tumor Curable?

Microadenomas are small (less than 10 mm in diameter) and non-cancerous tumors that develop in the pituitary gland. They can be successfully treated with surgery, medication, or radiation therapy.

Doctors use the transsphenoidal approach to remove microadenomas. This minimally invasive surgery goes through the nose and sphenoid sinus to access the pituitary gland. The surgeon removes the tumor through this small opening, which reduces the risk of damage to surrounding structures. In most cases, people who undergo transsphenoidal surgery will have a full recovery with no long-term effects.

Radiation therapy through Gamma Knife is another treatment option for microadenomas. Gamma Knife uses a highly focused beam of gamma rays to target the tumor without harming surrounding tissues. It is used when other treatments have failed or are not an option. Medical therapy is an ideal option for certain type of pituitary tumors, called prolactinomas.

Larger tumors (more than 10 mm in diameter) are called macroadenomas. Larger tumors can be more challenging to remove via surgery because these tumors can enter vital compartments of the skull base (cavernous sinus) that are not always safely accessible.

Therefore, many but not all pituitary tumors can be substantially removed with a small chance of recurrence or return in the future.

Survival Rate for Pituitary Tumors

The 5-year survival rate for people with a pituitary tumor is excellent — 97%. This means that 97% of people diagnosed with a pituitary tumor will live at least 5 years after their diagnosis. The survival rate depends on several factors, including age, tumor type, and how early the tumor is diagnosed. 

Early diagnosis and treatment of pituitary tumors are essential for the best possible outcome. If you experience any symptoms associated with a pituitary tumor, it's critical to see your doctor right away for a proper diagnosis. After diagnosis and start of treatment, it's vital to maintain your follow-up appointments and adhere to your doctor's instructions for the best possible outcome and long-term prognosis.

Does a Pituitary Tumor Shorten Life Expectancy?

Generally, pituitary tumors do not shorten life expectancy. In fact, most people with a pituitary tumor will never even know they have one because the tumor usually does not cause any symptoms and might be diagnosed accidentally during an MRI or CT scan for another condition.

However, if a pituitary tumor grows large enough, it can press on nearby structures and cause life-threatening problems. The most common symptoms of a large pituitary tumor are headaches and vision loss due to pressure on the optic nerves. If the tumor produces abnormally high level of hormones, it can also lead to depression, fatigue, osteoporosis, and disrupted menstruation, all of which can significantly affect your quality of life.

Key Takeaways

Understanding the prognosis of your pituitary tumor is vital in making appropriate treatment decisions and managing your expectations. Here are the key points to remember:

  • Pituitary gland tumors are benign and slow-growing tumors that usually do not spread to other parts of the body.
  • The prognosis of pituitary tumors is generally good with treatment. Surgery and medication are the most common treatment options, while radiotherapy is used when other treatments are ineffective.
  • Most people with a pituitary tumor will never experience any symptoms and might be diagnosed only when getting an MRI or CT scan for another condition.
  • If left untreated, a pituitary tumor can grow large enough to cause life-threatening problems. Early diagnosis and, when indicated, treatment are crucial to prevent other health issues.
  • The earlier a pituitary tumor is diagnosed and treated, the better the patient's overall prognosis and quality of life.
  • The vast majority of people diagnosed with a pituitary tumor will live a long and healthy life.

If you have any concerns about your pituitary gland or think you might have a pituitary tumor, it is essential to see your doctor for a proper diagnosis. Treatment options are available, and the prognosis is generally good, so do not hesitate to seek medical help.

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