Risk Factors for Pituitary Tumors

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

But having a risk factor, or even many 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 only a few known risk factors.

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 as part of a genetic syndrome, often along with other types of tumors (see the next section).

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

Genetic syndromes

Pituitary tumors can sometimes be a part of a syndrome that often includes an increased risk of other types of tumors as well. These syndromes are caused by changes (mutations) in a person’s genes, which are often inherited from a parent. Syndromes that increase a person's risk of pituitary tumors include:

Multiple endocrine neoplasia, type I (MEN1): This is a hereditary condition in which people have a very high risk of developing tumors of the pituitary, parathyroid, and pancreas. This syndrome is caused by changes in the MEN1 gene, and it is passed on to about half of the children of an affected parent.

Multiple endocrine neoplasia, type IV (MEN4): This rare syndrome is very similar to MEN1, in that people with MEN4 have increased risks of pituitary tumors and certain other tumors. But MEN4 is caused by changes in the CDKN1B gene, which are most often inherited from a parent.

McCune-Albright syndrome: People with this syndrome often 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. This syndrome is caused by changes in the GNAS gene, which aren’t inherited but occur before birth.

Carney complex: This is a rare syndrome in which people have changes in skin coloring, as well as a high risk of some types of benign (non-cancerous) tumors, including pituitary tumors. Many cases are caused by inherited changes in the PRKAR1A gene, but some are caused by changes in other genes that have not yet been identified.

Familial isolated pituitary adenoma (FIPA): In this syndrome, only pituitary tumors run in the family. This syndrome is sometimes caused by changes in the AIP gene, although in many cases the gene changes that cause it aren’t yet known.

You can learn more about genetic cancer syndromes in Family Cancer Syndromes.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

MedlinePlus: National Library of Medicine (US). Genetic Conditions. Accessed at https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/condition/ on July 12, 2022.

National Cancer Institute. Physician Data Query (PDQ). Pituitary Tumors Treatment. 2020. Accessed at https://www.cancer.gov/types/pituitary/patient/pituitary-treatment-pdq on July 12, 2022.

Tatsi C, Stratakis CA. The genetics of pituitary adenomas. J Clin Med. 2019;9(1):30.

Last Revised: October 10, 2022

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