Educating yourself about your condition is a powerful way to develop a sense of control after a brain tumor diagnosis. To help you along, the following information addresses how to treat a pituitary tumor. You will obtain a better understanding of the different treatment options available, which can be helpful whether you are still in the treatment planning process or already have your procedure scheduled.
About Your Pituitary Tumor
To help you best understand how to treat a pituitary tumor, it can be helpful to understand more about the condition itself. The pituitary gland is about the size of a pea and sits in an area of the skull called the sella turcica. Imagine a spot behind the middle and back of your nose, and that is approximately where it sits, deep within the brain.
Though small, the pituitary gland plays a very important role within your body. It is actually made up of different types of glandular cells, and each secretes a different type of hormone. These hormones play roles in growth and development, thyroid function and cortisol production.
A pituitary tumor is a benign tumor, which means it does not spread to another area of the body. Sometimes a pituitary tumor will be made up of cells that secrete excess hormones. This type of tumor is called a functioning tumor and tends to be less than 1 cm in size. These excess hormones can lead to symptoms related to that hormone’s function.
However, a pituitary tumor can still be problematic if it is a non-functioning tumor and does not produce excess hormones. Non-functioning tumors are typically over 1 cm in size and can put pressure on nearby structures, such as nerves, blood vessels or brain tissue, causing damage and/or symptoms and necessitating treatment.
Treatment Options for Your Pituitary Tumor
Your personal doctor will recommend a treatment path based on your individual condition, such as the size of your tumor, your symptoms and your personal health factors. These factors include your age, other medical conditions you may have and whether you are a good candidate for surgery.
If your pituitary tumor is very small and is not causing any issues, your doctor may recommend a “watch and wait” approach. This means you will see your doctor on an established follow-up schedule to monitor your symptoms and take images to see if there have been any changes. Many people will never require any actual intervention to treat their pituitary tumor. However, it is important to attend appointments as scheduled to allow treatment to begin as soon as possible, should there be changes in the future.
There are some hormone-related pituitary symptoms that can be managed using medications. While this is not a curative treatment, it may be an option if you are not a candidate for other treatments or to ease symptoms until a more definitive treatment, such as surgery, can be performed.
If your pituitary tumor requires treatment, one option is to surgically remove all or part of the tumor. Sometimes surgery will need to be followed up with another treatment to eliminate any remaining tumor cells, discussed in the next section. Surgical removal of a pituitary adenoma takes place in a hospital setting, while you are asleep. Patients will need to spend at least a few days recovering in the hospital, followed by a period of activity restrictions at home. The timeframe for activity restrictions will vary depending on your individual condition.
In order to surgically remove your pituitary tumor, the neurosurgeon will need to access the area. This can be achieved a couple of different ways. The first way is a minimally invasive option using a transnasal approach, where the surgeon uses a microscope through a small opening at the back of the nose to visualize the area The second method is via a craniotomy, the temporary removal of a small piece of skull which is replaced at the end of the surgery. This may be necessary if your tumor is large or difficult to reach, as the surgeon can create an opening at a precise location.
Gamma Knife Radiosurgery
Though it sounds like a surgical procedure, Gamma Knife Radiosurgery is actually an advanced form of radiation therapy. Using almost 200 beams of low-dose radiation at once, a neurosurgeon can target just your pituitary tumor, sparing the delicate surrounding tissues. This shrinks and destroys tumor cells without harming healthy cells, which means you experience less of the unpleasant side effects commonly associated with radiation therapy.
Your doctor may recommend Gamma Knife Radiosurgery as a primary mode of treatment or following surgery if any tumor cells remain. Gamma Knife Radiosurgery can also be a treatment option for patients who are not good surgical candidates due to complicating health conditions or a tumor that is difficult to access.
Discuss Your Options
Wherever you are in the treatment planning process, it’s important to continue this discussion with your personal doctor. He or she will be the best person to relate this information to your individual condition. Because pituitary tumors can be different sizes, functioning or non-functioning and every patient is different, it is important to understand which treatment option is most appropriate to treat your pituitary tumor and why.