The pituitary or master gland produces hormones in the body. When cancerous growth begins to erupt in the gland, it is called pituitary tumour/cancer. Mostly, cancer in the pituitary gland is benign and may not even show symptoms for a very long time. Also, the cancer is less likely to spread to other parts of the body.
The normal functioning of the body, however, may be hampered. As the gland is responsible for producing hormones, the body may not either receive an adequate number of hormones or produce hormones excessively
Pituitary cancer causes a severe imbalance of hormones in the body. This may be due to excessive or decreased production of hormones in the body. Furthermore, cancer can also go asymptomatic for a long period. The common symptoms, however, are:
- Mood changes such as sudden anxiety or irritability
- Extreme fatigue
- Vision problems
- Numbness or pain in the facial area
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dizziness and confusion
- Changes in the menstrual cycle
- Loss of consciousness
- Increased blood pressure
- Irregular heartbeat
- Reduced sex drive
- Unexplained production of breast milk
- Cushing's syndrome
- Acromegaly in adults
- Gigantism in children
The exact cause of pituitary cancer is not known. The possible causes, however, include:
- A family history of pituitary cancer
- Genetic disorder
As pituitary cancer may remain asymptomatic for a long time, it may also be undetected for the same period. In most cases, cancer will be detected along with other medical tests. The cancer is mostly benign. Its diagnosis, however, has to be in the early stages to avoid complications. It includes
- Physical examination: The first test to diagnose pituitary cancer is a physical examination and study of medical history. The doctor will ask you about your previous medical conditions and surgical history. Furthermore, he will be physically examined for signs of cancer
- Blood test: The doctor will recommend blood and urine tests to check the level of hormones in the body
- Imaging tests: Various imaging tests such as X-rays, MRI, and CT scans will be conducted to get additional information about the condition.
- Biopsy: The doctor will remove a small tissue from the gland and examine it for the presence of cancer cells
The treatment for pituitary cancer depends on the severity of the condition, the size of the tumour, the patient's age, and overall health conditions. The doctor will recommend a combination of therapies such as radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone replacement therapy, or surgery.
- Active surveillance: This is done for asymptomatic patients with pituitary tumours. The doctor will closely monitor the patient and check the growth of the tumour. Once the tumour has reached a certain stage, the doctor will start the therapy.
- Surgery: Surgery may only be involved in the cancer that is causing vision problems.
- Radiation therapy: High-energy X-rays will be used to destroy cancer cells.
- Chemotherapy: High doses of anti-cancer drugs will be administered to destroy cancer cells. In some cases, chemotherapy is combined with radiation therapy to remove cells from the body.
- Hormone replacement therapy: Since cancer causes hormonal imbalance in the body, the doctor will either inject synthetic hormones to maintain the level or inject certain medications to reduce the production of hormones.