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Pituitary macroadenomas, which are pituitary tumors larger than 1 centimeter, are caused by mutations in the DNA of the cells in the pituitary gland. The exact cause of these mutations is not fully understood. Some people inherit gene mutations that may make them more susceptible to developing pituitary tumors, while others may develop genetic mutations later in life. Called “acquired mutations,” these changes can occur due to exposure to radiation or carcinogenic chemicals. Still, many pituitary tumors have no apparent cause.

Symptoms of a pituitary macroadenoma

Pituitary macroadenomas can cause symptoms for two reasons. First, a person with a pituitary macroadenoma may experience symptoms if the tumor makes too much of a certain hormone. When this occurs, the tumor is said to be functional. Functional pituitary macroadenomas can cause a wide range of symptoms depending on the type of hormone it produces, potentially affecting growth, weight, sexual intimacy and more. Second, if the tumor presses on a normal part of the pituitary gland or surrounding nerves like the optic nerve, symptoms may also develop.

Pituitary macroadenoma treatment

Many pituitary macroadenomas do not require treatment. If the tumor is secreting hormones, medication may be prescribed to control the hormone production. However, if the tumor causes severe symptoms that cannot be managed with medication, a patient’s physician may recommend surgery to remove it. Most often, a surgeon will remove a pituitary tumor by making an opening in the skull or the upper lip, or by accessing the tumor through the nasal passages.

Radiation therapy may also be used to treat a pituitary macroadenoma. During radiation therapy, high-energy X-rays are delivered directly to the tumor to shrink it. For patients with pituitary tumors, a physician may recommend stereotactic radiotherapy, during which a high dose of radiation is delivered to the tumor once, or a series of smaller doses are delivered over the course of several weeks.

To speak with an oncologist at Moffitt Cancer Center about which pituitary macroadenoma treatment option is best for you, request an appointment by calling 1-888-663-3488 or submitting a new patient registration form online. We do not require referrals.