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Pituitary Tumor: Treatment Choices

Doctor speaking to a woman in an office setting

Different types of treatments can be used for pituitary tumors. Which may work best for you? It depends on a number of factors, such as:

  • If the tumor is cancer or not cancer. Most pituitary tumors are not cancer.

  • If the tumor is smaller than 1 cm (microadenoma)

  • If the tumor is larger than 1 cm (macroadenoma)

  • If the tumor makes hormones (functional)

  • What kinds of hormones the tumor makes

  • Your age and general health

Learning about your treatment options

You may have questions and concerns about your treatment options. You may also want to know how you’ll feel and function after treatment, and if you’ll have to change your normal activities.

Your doctor is the best person to answer your questions. He or she can tell you what your treatment choices are and how well they might work. Your doctor can also tell you what the risks and side effects may be.

Types of treatment

In most cases, pituitary tumors are treated by using:

  • Surgery

  • Radiation therapy

  • Medicines that stop the tumor from making hormones

If the tumor is not causing any problems, treatment may not even be needed. In this case, watchful waiting is done. This means you are watched closely and will have blood or urine tests done regularly to check for tumor growth. Treatment would then be started only if the tumor starts causing problems.

Goals of treatment

Each type of treatment has its own goal:

Surgery. The goal of surgery is to remove the whole tumor from the pituitary gland. This is possible with most microadenomas, but may be less likely with macroadenomas. Sometimes the whole pituitary gland must be removed. Medicines can then do the work that the pituitary gland used to do.

Radiation. The goal of radiation therapy is to kill the tumor using X-rays. This treatment is often used when:

  • Surgery can’t be done

  • Medicine can’t ease the tumor’s symptoms

  • The whole pituitary tumor can’t be removed in surgery

  • The pituitary tumor comes back after surgery

Medicines to block hormone production. The goal of this therapy is to stop the tumors from making excess hormones that affect other parts of the body. For some kinds of pituitary tumors, this may be the only treatment needed.

Clinical trials for new treatments

Doctors are always finding new ways to treat pituitary tumors. These new methods are tested in clinical trials. Before starting treatment, ask your doctor if there are any clinical trials you should consider.

Talking with your doctor

At first, thinking about treatment options may seem overwhelming. Talk with your doctors, nurses, and loved ones. Make a list of questions. Think about the benefits and possible side effects of each option. Discuss your concerns with your doctor before making a decision. 

Make sure you ask how the treatment will change your daily life. This includes your diet, and how you will look and feel after treatment. Ask how successful the treatment is expected to be, and what the risks and possible side effects are. You may also want to ask a friend or family member to go with you. He or she can take notes and write down the answers, and also ask questions you may not think of. You can also ask your healthcare provider if you can record the conversation.

Online Medical Reviewer: Gersten, Todd, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Stump-Sutliff, Kim, RN, MSN, AOCNS
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2016
© 2013 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.
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