What Happens After Treatment for Pituitary Tumors?
For most people with pituitary tumors, treatment can remove or destroy the tumor. Completing treatment can be both stressful and exciting. You may be relieved to finish treatment, but find it hard not to worry about tumor growing or coming back. (When a tumor comes back after treatment, it is called recurrence.) This is a very common concern in people who have had a pituitary tumor.
It may take a while before your fears lessen. But it may help to know that many pituitary tumor survivors have learned to live with this uncertainty and are living full lives. Our document Living With Uncertainty: The Fear of Cancer Recurrence gives more detailed information on this.
For other people, the tumor might never go away completely. Some people may continue to get medicines or other treatments to help keep the tumor in check. Learning to live with a tumor that does not go away can be difficult and very stressful. It has its own type of uncertainty. Our document When Cancer Doesn’t Go Away, talks more about this.
Follow-up care is very important after treatment for pituitary tumors. Even if you have completed treatment, your doctors will still want to watch you closely. Keep all of your appointments with your health care team and follow their instructions carefully. Report any new or recurring symptoms to your doctor right away. Ask questions if you don’t understand what your doctor says.
Surgery is often the first treatment for many types of pituitary adenomas. If you had a functional (hormone-making) pituitary adenoma, hormone measurements can often be done within days or weeks after surgery to see if the treatment was successful. Blood tests will also be done to see how well the remaining normal pituitary gland is functioning. If the results show that the tumor was removed completely and that pituitary function is normal, you will still need periodic visits with your doctor. Your hormone levels may need to be checked again in the future to check for recurrence of the adenoma. Regardless of whether or not the tumor made hormones, MRI scans are often done as a part of follow-up. Depending on the size of the tumor and the extent of surgery, you may also be seen by a neurologist to check your brain and nerve function and an ophthalmologist (eye doctor) to assess your vision.
After radiation treatment, you will need checkups for several years. The response of the tumor to radiation therapy is hard to predict, and although the benefits and side effects of treatment can occur within months, some might take years to appear. Your pituitary function will be checked at regular intervals. MRI scans will be the main follow-up tests, along with testing hormone levels if your tumor made hormones.
It’s common for people to develop pituitary hormone deficiencies after surgery or radiation therapy. These people will need hormone replacement. Thyroid hormone and adrenal steroids can be taken as pills. In men, testosterone can be given to restore sex drive and help prevent osteoporosis (weak bones). Testosterone is available as a gel, liquid, or patch applied to the skin. It can also be given as a monthly injection or implanted as a pellet under the skin every few months. In young women, estrogen is given either by pills or a skin patch to avoid early menopause. Often, progesterone is given along with estrogen. Pituitary hormone deficiency can affect a woman’s ability to have children. However, if she wishes to become pregnant, it may be possible to restore fertility with hormone therapy.
If you are taking medicine for a prolactinoma, you will have your hormone levels checked at least once or twice a year. If an MRI shows that the tumor has shrunk after treatment, the MRI might not need to be repeated, depending on the size of the tumor and whether the response is partial or complete. If you have a prolactin-producing microadenoma, you may be able to stop drug treatment after several years of therapy. Your doctor might recommend stopping the drug and then checking your prolactin level. If it remains normal, you may be able to stay off the drug.
For patients getting drug therapy for corticotropin (ACTH)-producing or growth hormone-producing adenomas, follow-up may be more frequent. Your hormone levels and symptoms will be monitored carefully. People with growth hormone-producing adenomas have an increased risk of developing high blood pressure and heart failure. They also have a higher risk of getting colon cancer. Periodic checkups for these conditions are recommended.
Diabetes insipidus (see “ Signs and symptoms of pituitary tumors”) can be a short-term result of surgery, although in some cases it might last longer. It can usually be treated effectively. If the problem is mild, simply taking in enough fluids might treat this problem. For more severe problems, the drug desmopressin is given either by nasal spray or by tablet. It is always important to drink enough fluids to avoid dehydration.
It’s also important to consider whether your pituitary tumor might be a clue to a genetic syndrome in your family. In the near future, people with pituitary tumors might be able to have genetic tests done on a sample of the tumor and blood tests to look for certain gene changes. If a change is found, family members might want to be tested as well to see if they are at increased risk.
Occasionally, people with large or fast-growing pituitary adenomas may be disabled or have their lives shortened because the tumor or its treatment destroys vital brain tissue near the pituitary gland, but this is rare. In general, when a pituitary tumor is not cured, people live out their lives but may have to deal with problems caused by the tumor or its treatment, such as vision problems or hormone levels that are too high or too low.
Last Medical Review: May 8, 2014 Last Revised: December 17, 2014