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Non Functioning Pituitary Adenomas

What are non functioning pituitary adenomas?

Non functioning adenomas are given this label because they do not secrete harmful hormones. However, they can cause symptoms resulting from tumor growth that creates pressure on your pituitary gland and on the structures near the pituitary.

Nonfunctioning pituitary adenomas are almost always benign.

Non Functioning Pituitary Tumor Symptoms

Not all nonfunctioning tumors cause symptoms. Those that are symptomatic typically cause the following:

  • Hypopituitarism
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Loss of appetite
    • Weight loss
    • Fatigue, decreased energy
    • Slow or incoherent thinking
    • Dizziness or spatial disorientation
    • Joint pains
    • Infertility and irregular or nonexistent menstruation in women
    • Infertility, impotence, and loss of body and facial hair in men
    • Diminished or nonexistent sex drive
  • Pressure or mass effect
    • Headache
    • Loss of vision which could involve the loss of peripheral vision or decreased acuity in one or both eyes
    • Double vision

Non Functioning Pituitary Tumors Treatments

Observation

If your tumor is not large enough to cause symptoms, your doctor may prescribe a series of follow-up visits to monitor its growth. Most nonfunctioning pituitary tumors grow slowly, so surgical treatment can sometimes be delayed until symptoms occur.

Surgery

Surgery is the best form of treatment and the only way to achieve a cure. Your surgeon will gain access to your pituitary gland using the transsphenoidal approach—so named because the route your surgeon takes uses the sphenoid sinus. This natural openings in your body can be used by surgeons to make the surgery less invasive. This bone is located behind your nose, mostly within your skull.

Using precise surgical instruments, your surgeon will enter your nasal cavity and create an opening in your sphenoid bone. At Barrow, our surgeons do not make any external incisions on your face, and you will not have any bruising. Once your surgeon gains access to your sphenoid sinus (the air-filled area behind the sphenoid bone), further openings will be made until a hole is created in the sella turcica—the bone that cradles and protects your pituitary gland.

Once your tumor appears in the operative field, removal of the tumor can proceed. Your surgeon will use high magnification to help distinguish normal pituitary tissue from the tumor.

After the tumor has been removed, your surgeon will clean the tumor cavity and seal it off. At Barrow, our surgeons specialize in endoscopic pituitary surgery. Endoscopic pituitary surgery uses a tiny camera to enter the nostrils to remove the tumor.

The surgery aims to minimize trauma to the tissue surrounding your pituitary gland while facilitating a speedy recovery with as little pain or discomfort as is possible.

Most patients are able to return home the day after their surgery.

Medical Therapy

There is no effective way to slow the growth of nonfunctioning pituitary tumors by taking medication.

However, medicines may be prescribed to help alleviate some symptoms associated with the disease. Hormone replacement drugs can also be given if surgery to remove your tumor does not restore normal pituitary function.

Radiosurgery

Gamma Knife radiosurgery is a highly advanced form of accurate radiation that is used to achieve similar results to the traditional surgical techniques described above. However, with Gamma Knife, it can take a period of several years for your tumor to shrink and its associated symptoms to decrease, rather than days or weeks as with traditional surgery.

The “knife” in this surgery is actually made up of many small beams of radiation focused on a single point. Each individual beam is too weak to damage healthy tissue, but at the point where the beams converge they deliver a dose of radiation that is lethal to the tumor.

Gamma Knife is an outpatient procedure, does not involve any incisions, and requires only brief sedation under general anesthetic.

Typically, Gamma Knife is used as a secondary treatment for nonfunctioning pituitary tumors, with surgical removal being the first choice. However, if your tumor has recurred or if you are not healthy enough to undergo traditional surgery, Gamma Knife might be the best option.

Additional Information

How common are nonfunctioning pituitary tumors?

Nonfunctioning tumors account for about 30 percent of all pituitary tumors.

How are nonfunctioning pituitary tumors diagnosed?

A combination of the symptoms listed above may make your doctor suspect a nonfunctioning pituitary tumor. If your doctor suspects a nonfunctioning pituitary tumor, a combination of hormonal, imaging, and ophthalmological tests can be used to pinpoint the problem.

Hormone Tests

Because nonfunctioning pituitary adenoma tumors can disrupt the ability of your pituitary gland to make and regulate several bodily hormones, blood tests for bodily hormones can suggest the cause of disease. Some hormones that might be implicated are the following:

  • Thyroid-stimulating hormone
  • Adrenocorticotropic hormone
  • Luteinizing hormone
  • Estradiol (women)
  • Testosterone (men)
  • Prolactin
  • Growth hormone
  • Insulin-like growth factor-1
Ophthalmological Evaluation

Decreased or loss of peripheral vision can be a sign of a nonfunctioning pituitary tumor.

Imaging

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) can be used to locate the tumor, assess the threat it poses to adjacent structures, and plan a surgical route if necessary.

Group 12
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Nonfunctioning tumors account for about 30 percent of all pituitary tumors.
Medically Reviewed by Andrew S. Little, MD, FAANS, FACS on February 1, 2021