What You Should Know About Pituitary Tumors

Ask the Experts

Igor Kravets, MD
Endocrinologist, Assistant Professor Division of Endocrinology,
Diabetes and Metabolism
Stony Brook Medicine
Raphael Davis, MD
Neurosurgeon, Professor and Chair Department of Neurosurgery
Co-Director, Stony Brook University Neurosciences Institute

 

Where do pituitary tumors form?
Dr. Kravets: A pituitary tumor is an abnormal growth of cells in the pituitary gland, which is a small, pea-sized organ located in the center of the brain, behind the nose and eyes. The pituitary is a “master gland” of the body; it produces many hormones that control other endocrine glands and certain functions of the body.
Are they mostly benign or malignant?
Dr. Davis: Most pituitary tumors are benign (non-cancerous). However, because of the location of the pituitary gland at the base of the skull, pituitary tumors can cause problems since they grow upward. Eventually some will press against the area where the optic nerves intersect, causing vision problems. They can also cause hormonal imbalance.What causes pituitary tumors?
Dr. Kravets: No one knows for sure what causes pituitary tumors. About one to five percent of pituitary tumors occur within families. Most are not inherited, however there are certain, rare, inherited conditions such as multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN 1), that carry a higher risk of pituitary tumors.

What are the different types of pituitary tumors?
Dr. Davis: Adenomas are benign tumors that develop on the pituitary gland behind the eyes. These tumors can change levels in hormone production or cause vision loss. Craniopharyngiomas are benign tumors that develop at the base of the brain where it meets the pituitary gland. They commonly affect children 5 to 10 years of age, but adults can sometimes be affected in their 50s and 60s.

What are the symptoms?
Dr. Kravets: Symptoms vary depending on the type and size of a pituitary tumor but not all pituitary tumors cause symptoms. Many pituitary tumors are not diagnosed until symptoms appear. Some pituitary tumors are found incidentally on brain imaging obtained for a reason unrelated to the pituitary. Certain symptoms may develop when pituitary tumors grow so large that they exert pressure on surrounding structures.

Such symptoms include:
• Changes in vision (particularly loss of peripheral/outer edge vision)
• Headache

Other symptoms are related to either deficiency or excessive production of certain hormones. Common symptoms caused by such hormonal disturbances include:
• Menstrual cycle changes (irregular or lack of menstrual periods
• Erectile dysfunction or loss of sex drive
• Weight changes
• Production of breast milk by a woman who has not given birth
• Accelerated or stunted growth in a child or teenager
• Growth of the hands, feet, forehead and jaw in adults
• Development of a round face, a hump between the shoulders or both

How is a pituitary tumor diagnosed?
Dr. Kravets: An endocrinologist will ask you about the symptoms you are experiencing, and about your personal and family health history. He or she will perform a physical exam and order tests of your blood and urine. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or computerized tomography (CT or CAT) scan may also be ordered to obtain detailed images of the brain and the pituitary gland. In rare instances, a biopsy (surgical procedure to remove a small sample of the tumor for examination) is required.

What treatments are available?
Dr. Davis: Treatments may include surgery, radiation therapy or medication. Transsphenoidal surgery is surgery performed through the nose and sphenoid sinus (located in the very back part of the nose, just beneath the base of the brain) to remove a pituitary tumor. It can be performed with an endoscope, microscope or both and is a team effort between neurosurgeons and ear, nose and throat (otolaryngology/ENT) surgeons. Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays to kill the tumor cells and is recommended when surgery is not an option, if the pituitary tumor remains, or if the tumor causes symptoms that are not relieved by medicine.

Why choose Stony Brook?
Dr. Kravets: Our Pituitary Care Center provides access to all of the coordinated expert care you need in one location, close to home — which can make the course of your treatment easier. Our team includes specialists from endocrinology, neurosurgery, otolaryngology (ENT), radiation oncology, neuropathology, neuroradiology, neuro-ophthalmology, and patient education and support.

To make an appointment with one of our Pituitary Care Center endocrinologists, call
(631) 444-0580. To make an appointment with one of our Pituitary Care Center neurosurgeons,
call (631) 444-1213. To learn more, visit stonybrookmedicine.edu/pituitary.

All health and health-related information contained in this article is intended to be general and/or educational in nature and should not be used as a substitute for a visit with a healthcare professional for help, diagnosis, guidance, and treatment. The information is intended to offer only general information for individuals to discuss with their healthcare provider. It is not intended to constitute a medical diagnosis or treatment or endorsement of any particular test, treatment, procedure, service, etc. Reliance on information provided is at the user’s risk. Your healthcare provider should be consulted regarding matters concerning the medical condition, treatment, and needs of you and your family. Stony Brook University/SUNY is an affirmative action, equal opportunity educator and employer.

From https://www.stonybrookmedicine.edu/patientcare/pituitarytumors

Diagnosis and Treatment of Pituitary Adenomas

A Review
JAMA. 2017;317(5):516-524. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.19699

Importance  Pituitary adenomas may hypersecrete hormones or cause mass effects. Therefore, early diagnosis and treatment are important.

Observations  Prevalence of pituitary adenomas ranges from 1 in 865 adults to 1 in 2688 adults. Approximately 50% are microadenomas (<10 mm); the remainder are macroadenomas (≥10 mm).

Mass effects cause headache, hypopituitarism, and visual field defects. Treatments include transsphenoidal surgery, medical therapies, and radiotherapy. Prolactinomas account for 32% to 66% of adenomas and present with amenorrhea, loss of libido, galactorrhea, and infertility in women and loss of libido, erectile dysfunction, and infertility in men; they are generally treated with the dopamine agonists cabergoline and bromocriptine.

Growth hormone–secreting tumors account for 8% to 16% of tumors and usually present with enlargement of the lips, tongue, nose, hands, and feet and are diagnosed by elevated insulin-like growth factor 1 levels and growth hormone levels; initial treatment is surgical. Medical therapy with somatostatin analogues, cabergoline, and pegvisomant is often also needed.

Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)–secreting tumors account for 2% to 6% of adenomas and are associated with obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and other morbidity. Measurement of a late-night salivary cortisol level is the best screening test but petrosal sinus sampling for ACTH may be necessary to distinguish a pituitary from an ectopic source.

The primary treatment of Cushing disease (hypercortisolism due to ACTH-producing adenomas, which is the cause in approximately 65% of the cases of hypercortisolism) is adenoma resection and medical therapies including ketoconazole, mifepristone, and pasireotide.

Hyperthyroidism due to thyroid-stimulating hormone–secreting tumors accounts for 1% of tumors and is treated with surgery and somatostatin analogues if not surgically cured. Clinically nonfunctioning adenomas account for 15% to 54% of adenomas and present with mass effects; surgery is generally required, although incidentally found tumors can be followed if they are asymptomatic.

Conclusions and Relevance  Patients with pituitary adenomas should be identified at an early stage so that effective treatment can be implemented. For prolactinomas, initial therapy is generally dopamine agonists. For all other pituitary adenomas, initial therapy is generally transsphenoidal surgery with medical therapy being reserved for those not cured by surgery.

Read the full text here: http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2600472

Topical Ocular Glucocorticoid Leads to Cushing’s Syndrome in 9-Year-Old

In a case report published online January 19 in Pediatrics, iatrogenic Cushing’s syndrome (CS) is described in a 9-year-old girl who received topical ocular glucocorticoid (GC) treatment for bilateral iridocyclitis.

Daisuke Fukuhara, MD, PhD, from the Kyorin University School of Medicine in Mitaka, Japan, and colleagues present the case of a 9-year-old girl suffering from idiopathic uveitis. She arrived at the ophthalmology department with a complaint of painful eyes, and was diagnosed with bilateral iridocyclitis and started on betamethasone sodium phosphate eye drop treatment.

The authors note that the patient was referred to the pediatric department with stunted growth, truncal obesity, purple skin striae, buffalo hump, and moon face six months after initiation of topical ocular GC treatment. She was diagnosed with iatrogenic CS as her serum cortisol and plasma adrenocorticotropic hormone levels were undetectable. The clinical symptoms of CS were improved after the doses of topical ocular GC were reduced. On genetic analysis, the patient was found to have a single heterozygous nucleotide substitution in the 3′ untranslated region of the NR3C1 gene.

“However, additional investigations are required to determine if our findings can be extrapolated to other patients,” the authors write. “In conclusion, clinicians should be aware that even extremely low doses of topical ocular steroid therapy can cause iatrogenic CS.”

Full Text (subscription or payment may be required)

From http://www.empr.com/news/iatrogenic-cushings-syndrome-topical-ocular-glucocorticoid-iridocyclitis/article/632840/

Severe Trauma May Damage The Brain as Well as the Psyche

NOTE: This is only a portion of the article.  Read the entire post at http://www.nytimes.com/1995/08/01/science/severe-trauma-may-damage-the-brain-as-well-as-the-psyche.html?pagewanted=all

Cortisol is a major means the body uses, with adrenaline, to arouse itself so quickly; its action, for example, triggers an increase in blood pressure and mobilizes energy from fat tissue and the liver.

“The dark side of this picture is the neurological effects,” said Dr. Sapolsky. “It’s necessary for survival, but it can be disastrous if you secrete cortisol for months or years on end. We’ve known it could lead to stress-exacerbated diseases like hypertension or adult onset diabetes. But now we’re finding the hippocampus is also damaged by these secretions.”

Studies in animals show that when glucocorticoids are secreted at high levels for several hours or days, there is a detectable effect on memory, though no neuronal death. But with sustained release from repeated stress, “it eventually kills neurons in the hippocampus,” said Dr. Sapolsky. “This has been shown solidly in rats, with the cell biology well understood.”

A parallel effect has long been known among patients with Cushing’s disease, a hormonal condition in which tumors in the adrenal or pituitary glands or corticosteroid drugs used for a prolonged time cause the adrenal glands to secrete high levels of a hormone called ACTHm and of cortisol. Such patients are prone to a range of diseases “in any organ with stress sensitivity,” including diabetes, hypertension and suppression of the immune system, said Dr. Sapolsky.

Cushing’s patients also have pronounced memory problems, especially for facts like where a car was parked. “The hippocampus is essential for transferring such facts from short-term to long-term memory,” said Dr. Sapolsky.

In 1993, researchers at the University of Michigan reported that magnetic resonance imaging had shown an atrophy and shrinkage of the hippocampus in patients with Cushing’s disease; the higher their levels of cortisol, the more shrinkage.

In an apparent paradox, low levels of cortisol in post-trauma victims were found in a separate research report, also in the July issue of The American Journal of Psychiatry. Dr. Rachel Yehuda, a psychologist at Mount Sinai Medical School in New York City, found the lower levels of cortisol in Holocaust survivors who had been in concentration camps 50 years ago and who still had post-traumatic symptoms.

“There are mixed findings on cortisol levels in trauma victims, with some researchers finding very high levels and others finding very low levels,” said Dr. Sapolsky. “Biologically speaking, there may be different kinds of post-traumatic stress.”

In a series of studies, Dr. Yehuda has found that those post-trauma patients who have low cortisol levels also seem to have “a hypersensitivity in cell receptors for cortisol,” she said. To protect itself, the body seems to reset its cortisol levels at a lower point.

The low cortisol levels “seem paradoxical, but both too much and too little can be bad,” said Dr. Yehuda. “There are different kinds of cells in various regions of the hippocampus that react to cortisol. Some atrophy or die if there is too little cortisol, some if there is too much.”

Dr. Yehuda added, “In a brain scan, there’s no way to know exactly which cells have died.”

To be sure that the shrinkage found in the hippocampus of trauma victims is indeed because of the events they suffered through, researchers are now turning to prospective studies, where before-and-after brain images can be made of people who have not yet undergone trauma, but are at high risk, or who have undergone it so recently that cell death has not had time to occur.

Dr. Charney, for example, is planning to take M.R.I. scans of the brains of emergency workers like police officers and firefighters and hopes to do the same with young inner-city children, who are at very high risk of being traumatized over the course of childhood and adolescence. Dr. Pitman, with Dr. Yehuda, plans a similar study of trauma victims in Israel as they are being treated in emergency rooms.

Dr. Yehuda held out some hope for people who have suffered through traumatic events. “It’s not necessarily the case that if you’ve been traumatized your hippocampus is smaller,” she said. She cited research with rats by Dr. Bruce McEwen, a neuroscientist at Rockefeller University, showing that atrophied dendritic extensions to other cells in the hippocampus grew back when the rats were given drugs that blocked stress hormones.

Dr. Sapolsky cited similar results in patients with Cushing’s disease whose cortisol levels returned to normal after tumors were removed. “If the loss of hippocampal volume in trauma victims is due to the atrophy of dendrites rather than to cell death, then it is potentially reversible, or may be so one day,” he said.

NOTE: This is only a portion of the article.  Read the entire post at http://www.nytimes.com/1995/08/01/science/severe-trauma-may-damage-the-brain-as-well-as-the-psyche.html?pagewanted=all

Cushing’s disease best treated by endocrinologist

Dear Dr. Roach: I was told that I have Cushing’s disease, which has caused diabetes, high blood pressure, hunger, weight gain and muscle loss. I was never sick before this, and I did not have any of those things. I am told I have a tumor on my right adrenal gland. I have been to numerous doctors, but most have not been too helpful. They seem to try to treat the diabetes or blood pressure, but nothing else. They seem not to be familiar with Cushing’s. I tell them which medication works, but they still give me new medication. I have an endocrinologist and am scheduled to meet a urologist.

I have managed to go to physical therapy, exercise every day and lose over 50 pounds. I am not happy with the advice I’m getting. I was told that surgery to remove the tumor will fix everything, but that I would need to take steroids for either a short term or for life. My body is already making too much cortisol. I have 50 more pounds to lose. I work hard to keep the weight down. I feel like a science experiment. Within a week, I have had three different medications. I could not tell which was causing the side effects and making me dehydrated. I am not sure surgery is right for me, because they said it can be done laparoscopically, but if they can’t do it that way, they will have to cut me all the way across, which may take a long time to heal and may get infected.

Do you know what tests will confirm the diagnosis? Would surgery fix all these problems? I had the 24-hour urine test, the saliva test and blood tests. I want to know if it may be something else instead of Cushing’s. I’m not on anything for the high cortisol levels.

– A.L.

A: It sounds very much like you have Cushing’s syndrome, which is caused by excess cortisone, a hormone that has many effects. It is called Cushing’s disease when the underlying cause is a pituitary tumor that causes the adrenal gland to make excess cortisone. (Cortisone and cortisol are different names for the same chemical, also called a glucocorticoid.) Cushing’s syndrome also may be caused by an adenoma (benign tumor) of the adrenal gland, which sounds like the case in you.

The high amounts of cortisone produced by the adrenal tumor cause high blood pressure, glucose intolerance or frank diabetes, increased hunger, obesity (especially of the abdomen – large bellies and skinny limbs are classic), dark-colored striae (stretch marks), easy bruising, a reddish face and often weakness of arm and leg muscles. When full-blown, the syndrome is easy to spot, but many people don’t have all the characteristics, especially early in the course of the disease.

Your endocrinologist is the expert in diagnosis and management, and has done most of the tests. I am somewhat surprised that you haven’t yet seen a surgeon to have the tumor removed. Once it is removed, the body quickly starts to return to normal, although losing the weight can be a problem for many.

I have seen cases in my training where, despite many tests, the diagnosis was still uncertain. The endocrinologist orders a test where the blood is sampled from both adrenal veins (which contain the blood that leaves the adrenal glands on top of the kidneys). If the adrenal vein on the side of the tumor has much more cortisone than the opposite side, the diagnosis is certain.

By DR. KEITH ROACH For the Herald & Review at http://herald-review.com/news/opinion/editorial/columnists/roach/dr-roach-cushing-s-disease-best-treated-by-endocrinologist/article_38e71835-464d-5946-aa9c-4cb1366bcee3.html

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