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Pituitary Tumors

Pituitary adenomas are tumors in the pituitary gland, located in the center of the head behind the eyes. The pituitary gland is less than a half inch in diameter, about the size of a pea. It's often called the "master gland" because it controls many of the body's other glands and the production of hormones, chemicals that regulate essential body processes.

If a pituitary tumor exists, the pituitary gland may make an excessive amount of hormones. Tumors that make hormones are called functioning tumors and those that don't make hormones are called nonfunctioning tumors.

Tumors that secrete hormones tend to be smaller than the pituitary gland when they're diagnosed. In fact, most pituitary tumors are microadenomas that measure 3 to 9 millimeters in diameter. Less common tumors are macroadenomas that are 10 millimeters or larger in diameter.

Tumors that don't secrete hormones tend to be larger and may compress other tissue such as the optic nerves, causing vision loss.

Some tumors may cause Cushing's disease, in which too many hormones called glucocorticoids are released into the bloodstream. This causes fat to build up in the face, back and chest while the arms and legs become very thin. Other symptoms include too much sugar in the blood, weak muscles and bones, a flushed face and high blood pressure.

Other pituitary tumors can cause a condition called acromegaly, where the hands, feet and face are larger than normal. In very young people, the entire body may grow much larger than normal.

Almost all pituitary tumors are benign, rather than malignant or cancerous, and are relatively slow growing. They rarely spread to other areas of the body.

Our approach to pituitary tumors

UCSF offers highly specialized, world-class care for pituitary tumors. Our team includes experts in neuroendocrinology, neurosurgery and radiation therapy, among other specialties.

UCSF surgeons pioneered a minimally invasive procedure to remove pituitary tumors, called the transsphenoidal approach, which is safer than traditional surgery and leaves no scars. UCSF has more experience with this procedure than any other program in the nation and has a record of excellent outcomes.

We also offer radiosurgery, which delivers precisely targeted, high doses of radiation to abnormal tissue while minimizing radiation exposure to surrounding healthy tissue. We use radiosurgery to treat pituitary tumors that can't be removed completely because they have grown into surrounding areas.

Awards & recognition

  • usnews-neurology

    Among the top hospitals in the nation

  • usnews-diabetes-and-endocrinology

    Best in Northern California for diabetes care & endocrinology

  • usnews-neurology

    Best in California and No. 2 in the nation for neurology & neurosurgery

  • pituitary surgeries performed annually

UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.