Brain Tumor Program: Pituitary Tumors

The pituitary gland is a tiny organ in the brain located in the back of the nose. Tumors in this area are generally noncancerous but can grow large enough to cause problems in other parts of the body.

UC Irvine Health has one of only a handful of brain tumor programs in California with a team of experts experienced in diagnosing and treating pituitary tumors. We use the least invasive methods possible to remove tumors, such as the transsphenoidal approach that removes the tumor through the nostrils. Our program has achieved some of the highest success rates in the country using this approach.

Pituitary tumors: advanced care

Pituitary tumors are a common type of brain tumor. From diagnosis to treatment to follow-up, we offer you the effective care you need in one convenient location.

Highlights of our pituitary tumor care program include:

  • Team of experts: Our specialists work with experts in endocrinology and skull base surgery to create a personalized treatment plan for you. Meet our team ›
  • Minimally invasive techniques: We use minimally invasive approaches, such transsphenoidal surgery, whenever possible. This endoscopic procedure leaves no visible scar and preserves the ability to breathe easily through your nose. Learn more about neurosurgery ›
  • Precision: Our experts use the latest techniques to target the tumor precisely and remove it without damage to the surrounding healthy tissue. Find out more about diagnosing brain tumors ›
  • Follow up care: Pituitary tumors can cause hormone imbalances that lead to uncomfortable or unpleasant side effects including mood swings and changes to your physical appearance. Seeing a physician who specializes in pituitary and other hormone producing gland disorders (endocrinologist) can help you maintain normal hormone levels. Learn more about endocrinology services ›
  • Patient support: We offer a range of support services to help solve problems that can get in the way of your care. Our social workers can connect you with community resources including meal services and getting help around the house so you can focus on getting better. Learn more about our patient support services ›

What is a pituitary tumor?

A pituitary tumor is an abnormal mass of cells located in the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is an organ that sends chemical messengers called hormones into the bloodstream. Hormones direct other organs such as the ovaries, testes and pancreas to carry important functions that keep you healthy and make it possible to conceive a baby.

Tumors in the pituitary gland cause hormone production to go out of control, disrupting functioning in many parts of the body. Watch this pituitary tumor video ›

Symptoms of pituitary tumors

Headaches and vision problems are common symptoms of pituitary tumors. You may experience additional symptoms depending on which hormones are affected.

Symptoms include:

  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Puffy and enlarged hands, feet, ears and nose
  • Hard and thickened nails
  • Tiredness (fatigue)
  • Back and joint pain
  • Changes in menstruation in women, such as infrequent periods, no periods or irregular cycles
  • Shrinking testicles in men
  • Vision problems

Causes of pituitary tumors

Physicians do not know for sure what causes pituitary tumors. Through research, we are learning there may be a genetic link.

Genes are chemicals that include instructions for how cells grow, divide and die. Genes are also passed down through families (inherited). Some people inherit changes in their genes (mutations) that increase their risk of pituitary tumors. More research is needed to understand how this happens.

Diagnosing pituitary tumors

Pituitary tumors can cause symptoms similar to other medical conditions, which is why it is important to get an accurate diagnosis. We offer access to a broad range of diagnostic tests, as well as leading pituitary tumor experts. We rule out or confirm a pituitary tumor so you can start treatment as quickly as possible.

Diagnostic tests for pituitary tumors may include:

  • Blood and urine tests: Using a small sample of your blood or urine, these tests help us understand whether your hormone levels are too high or too low.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: CT scans use X-rays to produce three-dimensional (3-D) images of the brain. Unlike a typical X-ray test, which takes one picture, CT scans use a special machine that takes multiple pictures (slices) of the brain as it rotates around your head. Learn more about CT brain scans ›
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): An MRI uses a tunnel-shaped machine along with radio waves and strong magnets to produce detailed images of the brain. These images are often crisper and provide more detail than a CT scan. However, MRIs take a long time to complete, during which you must remain completely still. View a video about magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) ›
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: We use PET scans to determine how quickly a tumor is growing. During a PET scan, we inject a safe radioactive substance with sugar into the blood. We use special imaging scans to watch as the brain cells absorb the sugar. Since tumor cells grow faster than normal cells, they will absorb more of the sugar, which helps us confirm if there is a tumor and whether it is likely to spread. View a video about PET scans ›
  • Cerebral angiography: This test, also known as an angiogram, is an X-ray of the blood vessels within the brain. Angiography helps us determine whether a tumor is affecting the blood supply to the brain. Learn more about cerebral arteriograms ›
  • Biopsy: Taking a sample of tumor tissue (biopsy) and examining it under a microscope can help us confirm or rule out a meningioma diagnosis. We may also be able to determine how likely it is for the tumor to grow, which can help us plan future treatments.

Pituitary tumor treatments

UC Irvine Health offers a broad range of treatments. The treatment that is best for you depends on the size and location of the tumor, as well as the way the tumor is affecting your hormone levels. Our team of experts comes together to discuss your care and make recommendations. We include you and your family in important treatment decisions.

Common treatments for pituitary tumors include:

  • Medication: Medications can help bring hormone levels back to normal levels before, during or after other treatments. Other medications may help relieve specific symptoms, such as headaches and nausea.
  • Surgery: Our neurosurgeons use a sophisticated computer-assisted imaging navigation system to access and remove tumors. This technology offers three-dimensional (3-D) images of the surgical site, helping preserve the sensitive structures in your nose and skull during surgery. Learn more about neurosurgery ›
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation beams to reduce the size of the tumor and prevent it from growing. We offer the latest radiation therapy technologies, which help you get fast, effective treatments. Find out more about radiation therapy ›

Contact us

To schedule an appointment, call 714-456-8000 or fill out an online request form. You may also send us an email.

Our 24-hour promise: If you are a new patient, one of our brain tumor physicians will return your call within 24 hours. You can be seen in our offices within 48 hours after insurance approval.