Pituitary Tumors – The Best Kept Secret In Medicine

By Garni Barkhoudarian, M.D. and Sharmyn McGraw

Studies show that up to 1 in 5 adults may have a pituitary tumor or lesion. That's ~20% of our population. The Pituitary Gland is The Master Gland, which sits at the base of our brain. Pituitary tumors can cause severe hormonal disorders, blindness and many other serious health problems. These tumors are mostly benign, but can act in an aggressive manner. In most cases they are treatable, but we lack current and accurate education among our medical communities as well as the public, this results in far too many patients to become disabled and even lose their lives simply because we lack proper awareness and education.

Historically, doctors were taught pituitary disease was rare, and as such, many patients with pituitary disorders remain undiagnosed. Patients are not getting a timely and/or accurate diagnosis. Pituitary tumors often present with common symptoms leading doctors to treat individual symptoms never getting to the root cause. Patients can go many years without a proper evaluation leading to many poor quality of life health concerns. Many common symptoms include: Obesity in the abdomen, diabetes, low sex drive, lack of menstrual cycles, abnormal hair growth, hair lose, abnormal growth as an adult, anxiety, depression, low energy, abnormal hormone levels, blindness, high blood pressure, heart disease and more. Not every patient has every symptom.

A small handful of subspecialist in neuro-endocrinology and neurosurgery strive to reeducate their colleagues as well as advocates helping to raise public awareness. Tumors often over produce the hormones:

  • Prolactinoma: High levels of prolactin causing infertility and sexual dysfunction
  • Cushing's Disease: High levels of ACTH-causing elevated cortisol resulting in weight gain, diabetes mellitus and hypertension.
  • Acromegaly: High levels of growth hormone-causing increased tissue growth, diabetes mellitus, hypertension and cardiac abnormalities.

Some tumors are considered non-functioning; they don't secrete a hormone but can cause headaches, blindness, hormone dysfunction and other serious health problems. These can be treated with a combination of surgical and medical therapy. Pituitary hormonal disorders can also, albeit rarely, affect children. This should be considered if a child presents with multiple generalized symptoms.

We need your help please help us raise awareness-it may save your life or the life of someone you love.

Garni Barkhoudarian, M.D. Brain Tumor Center and Pituitary Disorders Program at Saint John's Health Center, Santa Monica, CA,

Sharmyn McGraw, Patient Advocate, Newport Beach, CA