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May 13th, 2010
01:39 PM ET

There's an abnormal growth in my brain – now what?

As a feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors will answer readers' questions. Here's a question for Dr. Gupta.

From Ronald in Kentucky:

“I am a 63-year-old male. I just recently found out that I have a pituitary adenoma. What can I do? And how long can I live with this condition?”

Answer:

Ronald, the short answer is you can live with this condition.  A pituitary adenoma or tumor is an abnormal growth that usually develops in your pituitary gland. The gland itself is a small and bean shaped – it weighs less than a gram – and is located below the brain in the base of your skull. Its normal function is to control the amount of hormones released in your body. But when an adenoma or tumor develops in the gland, it can throw off your hormone levels - so it sometimes produces too much or too little - which impacts your body's ability to function normally.  The symptoms patients often experience with a pituitary adenoma can include feeling tired all the time or headaches, vomiting or dizziness.

Pituitary adenomas are fairly common - accounting for about 15 percent of brain tumors. And while people can develop them at any age, they're most likely to appear in older adults. And the good news, Ronald, is that 99 percent of the time these tumors are noncancerous and don't spread.

The most important thing is that you treat it to prevent it from growing larger. They can be dangerous if left untreated - causing hypertension, diabetes, mood disorders, sexual dysfunction, infertility and heart disease.

Treatments will vary and depend on whether the adenoma is causing hormone production, the size of the growth among other factors. Your doctors will most likely first measure and locate the size of the tumor by performing a CT scan or MRI of the brain. From there, they can develop a treatment plan specific to your case. Your doctor may also refer you to an endocrinologist who specializes in hormone production of the body to determine your treatment.  While more than half of these tumors will need surgical removal, they can also be treated with medication, radiation or watched over time.


soundoff (25 Responses)
  1. Mary

    I had a tumor removed from my pituitary August 2005. First I made sure my surgeon good, Dr William White at Barrows, and then had it done. But I had had multiple tumors prior to that so I was not scared of surgery.
    The gentleman should also have a field vision test done as these tumors affect your periferal vision.

    May 13, 2010 at 17:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Nearly devastating...

    The good news is you can live with it; the bad news is that the life Dr. Gupta is speaking of is nothing like the life you had before.

    I am glad you used 'noncancerous' instead of the word 'benign' because the damn things are anything but benign.

    Pituitary adenoma has eliminated any natural testosterone so I now have to use synthetic testosterone – that alone is psychologically devastating. Before you say anything palliative or call me a whiner, first try it for yourself with Depo-Provara, then we'll talk.

    Second, the tumour eliminated all natural human growth hormone. Purchase of synthetic hgh is roughly $20,000 per year since insurance companies rarely reimburse for adult hgh replacement. Life without hgh is really not worth much – loss of hgh reduces your energy and overall personality to something similar to that of granite.

    And since I have lost two pituitary functions the literature says I am sure to lose more. It is not cancer but it is permanent loss of life's necessary hormones.

    May 13, 2010 at 20:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Diane L.

    I was diagnosed with a pituitary adenoma 6 years ago. Though it scared the bejeezus out of me when I heard the news, I have been tested, first every 3-6 months and now I am up to every two years. It has not grown and my life overall is normal. Other than MRIs and taking medication for my hypoactive thryroid, you can live a normal life. If one has to have an abnormal growth in our brains, this is the one to have!

    Best of luck....

    May 13, 2010 at 23:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Elizabeth

    Very interesting article about the pituitary adenoma. I have some hormone problems (such as endometriosis), but doctors never look at the brain as a possible source for that condition. A number of years ago, I was given six months of Lupron (GNRH agonist) shots to stop the production of estrogen, but the last month of shots (which caused terrible headaches, blurred vision, depression, and memory problems), I actually had my menstrual cycle. A number of years later, because endometriosis returned again and again, I had a hysterectomy. But the endometriosis returned. I have been diagnosed (several times) through laparoscopic surgery for endometriosis, but no other part of my body has been tested for reasons why it comes back. Is there some reason why some patients are diagnosed with conditions, while others can have all sorts of symptoms and no follow-up? Is it my insurance, or my gender, or that endometriosis and the connections to regulatory hormones in the brain have not been researched at all?

    May 14, 2010 at 02:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Heather J

    I had a Rathke's Cleft cyst drained. It's a cyst on the pituitary gland and is so similar to the pituitary adenoma that a lot of my paperwork used the terminology fairly interchangeably because until surgery, they couldn't tell which it was.

    I had surgery done through my nose. I think the procedure is a Transpenoidal Approach surgery. Dr. Amin Kassam did it in Pittsburgh but sadly, he is now in California, working. He did a wonderful job. The one lasting effect I have is that sometimes I'll get snot that builds up in the back of my nose and goes down my throat. Yay.

    It's really not a huge deal and not worth avoiding the surgery for, if surgery is recommended.

    I was in the hospital for 2 or 3 days after the surgery because my blood sugar was a little funky at first, but when I was released, I went shopping that same day. I tired easier than usual for about two months after the surgery and I took 1 month off of work.

    May 14, 2010 at 06:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Shelby

    I have a 6mm prolactinoma of the pituitary, which means that my pituitary tumor secretes a hormone. The tumor is very stable with treatment (medication), but I know the tumor continues to have an impact on me. It's not life-threatening, but I'm more emotional and less happy because of it. I get a lot of headaches, which might or might not be related. My endocrinolist tracks the tumor size (annual MRI's) and my Prolactin level, and doesn't see much beyond that.

    May 22, 2010 at 21:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Debbie

    Hello, I am a little concerned and at a loss as what to do.
    I have a 6mm benign pituitary tumour / cyst that I have had for 7 years. When it was first diagnosed the tumour /cyst was 3mm and I also have hyperprolactinemia (high prolactin level). I was put on Dostinex for about 2 years (2 years that are just a blur to me) because Dostinex made me extremely sick, I was nauseous all the time, forgetful, miserable, vomiting, and confused and my constant headache was even worse. Therefore I was taken off dostinex and surgery was going to be an option. However it was cancelled and never really discussed again. I have regular blood test to check the prolactin level which varies all the time, sometimes it is normal, other times it is very high. I have also had a few MRIs over the past years.

    Anyway last week I had my routine MRI (3 years since the last) and the tumour/ cyst had grown to 6mm. However the blood test shows that my prolactin level is normal.

    I have had a constant headache for as long as I can remember, at least the past 10 years and I also have had migraines since I was a small child. BUT in the last 8 – 12 months the headaches have increased. I have a constant headache, I don't get a rest from it, sometimes it is mild, sometimes it is bearable and I can continue with my day (although difficult) and other times it is horrid. I am so sick and tired of HEADACHES. I go through my life as if it is normal to have headaches or a constant headache BUT IT IS NOT NORMAL.

    The endocrinologist doesn't seem that concerned about it and frankly I have just taken the tumour/cyst in my stride since it was found. I'm not that fussed about it BUT the headache/s is really getting to me. The doctor has put me on a tablet to take twice daily for 2 weeks to help with the headaches ( to break the pain cycle) although he believes they are just migraines (which I know they are not because I have them too and they are different to this) he is sending me to a neurologist, however like I said, he doesn't seem that concerned about my headache/s. I am sure that the tumour/cyst is the problem but I don't know what to do or say anymore.

    Thanks for reading my story.

    May 29, 2010 at 22:18 | Report abuse | Reply
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  10. Name*ashley

    I got a cyst when I was 11yeara old im currently 19yrs old I sleep way to much and somtimes effect my daily routine can this effect me if I want a child in the future ??

    March 18, 2014 at 05:59 | Report abuse | Reply
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    hi,my sister has got a brain tumor which doctors say its located on a very sensitive nerve and cannot be operated,she has been given some drugs but she is still having convulsions, is there any hope left or are there drugs that can heal her.we are desperate

    July 3, 2014 at 08:32 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.

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