Pituitary Tumors

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Causes, Risk Factors, and Prevention TOPICS

What are the risk factors for pituitary tumors?

A risk factor is anything that changes a person’s chance of getting a disease. For example, smoking is a risk factor for cancer of the lung and many other cancers.

But having a risk factor, or even several risk factors, does not mean that you will get the disease. And many people who get the disease may have few or no known risk factors.

Pituitary tumors have very few known risk factors, and these are related to genetics. There are no known environmental or lifestyle-related risk factors for pituitary tumors.

Family history

Most people who develop pituitary tumors don’t have a family history of the disease. But rarely, pituitary tumors can run in families.

Sometimes when pituitary tumors run in families, they are found along with other types of tumors as part of an inherited genetic syndrome (see the next section).

Sometimes, though, only pituitary tumors occur. Researchers have found that some of these are due to certain changes in a person’s genes that are inherited from a parent (see “Do we know what causes pituitary tumors?”).

Most often, though, the cause of pituitary tumors that run in families is not known.

Genetic syndromes

Pituitary tumors can be a part of a syndrome that includes an increased risk of other types of tumors. These syndromes are caused by abnormal changes (mutations) in a person’s genes. They include:

Multiple endocrine neoplasia, type I (MEN1): This is a hereditary condition in which people have a very high risk of developing tumors of 3 glands: the pituitary, parathyroid, and pancreas. It is caused by changes in the gene MEN1, and is passed on to about half of the children of an affected parent. If the MEN1 syndrome affects your family, you should discuss testing for this condition with your doctor.

Multiple endocrine neoplasia, type IV (MEN4): This rare syndrome includes increased risks of pituitary tumors and certain other tumors. MEN4 is caused by inherited changes in a gene called CDKN1B.

McCune-Albright syndrome: This syndrome is caused by changes in a gene called GNAS1 that aren’t inherited but occur before birth. People with this syndrome have brown patches on their skin (called café-au-lait spots) and develop many bone problems. They can also have hormone problems and pituitary tumors.

Carney complex: This is a rare syndrome in which people can have heart, skin, and adrenal problems. They also have a high risk of a number of different types of tumors, including pituitary tumors. Many cases are caused by inherited changes in the gene PRKAR1A, but some are caused by changes in other genes that have not yet been identified.

You can learn more about inherited cancer syndromes in our document Heredity and Cancer.


Last Medical Review: 05/08/2014
Last Revised: 05/08/2014