Treating Pituitary Tumors

Nearly all pituitary tumors are adenomas (benign tumors). Treatment of a pituitary adenoma depends on whether or not it makes excess hormones and, if it does, which hormone it makes. Treatment also depends on whether it is a microadenoma (smaller than 1 centimeter across) or a macroadenoma (1 centimeter across or larger).

Treatment for pituitary tumors may include:

Sometimes a combination of treatments is used. For example, surgery may be done to remove some of the tumor, while drugs can be used to relieve symptoms and sometimes shrink the remaining tumor.

Your doctor will discuss treatment options with you. It’s important to take time and think about your choices, weighing the benefits of each option against the possible risks and side effects. It’s also important to ask questions if there is anything you’re not sure about. You can find some good questions to ask in What Should You Ask Your Doctor About Pituitary Tumors?

No matter what treatment you decide on, it should be done by doctors who have experience treating pituitary tumors. Pituitary tumors often require care from a team of doctors. Doctors on your team may include:

  • Neurosurgeon: a doctor who uses surgery to treat brain and pituitary tumors
  • Endocrinologist: a doctor who treats diseases in glands that secrete hormones
  • Neurologist: a doctor who diagnoses and treats brain and nervous system diseases
  • Radiation oncologist: a doctor who uses radiation to treat cancers and other tumors
  • Medical oncologist: a doctor who uses chemotherapy and other medicines to treat cancers and other tumors

Many other specialists might be part of your treatment team as well, including physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, psychologists, social workers, rehabilitation specialists, and other health professionals. See Health Professionals Associated With Cancer Care for more on this.

The next few sections describe the types of treatments used for pituitary tumors. This is followed by a description of the most common approaches based on the type of tumor (functional tumors, non-functional tumors, and carcinomas).

Getting a second opinion

Because pituitary tumors are uncommon, not many doctors have much experience with them. You may also want to get a second opinion. This can give you more information and help you feel more certain about the treatment plan you choose. Many people find it helpful to get a second opinion about the best treatment options based on their situation, especially if they have several choices.

Thinking about taking part in a clinical trial

Clinical trials are carefully controlled research studies that are done to get a closer look at promising new treatments or procedures. Clinical trials are one way to get state-of-the art cancer treatment. Sometimes they may be the only way to get access to newer treatments. They are also the best way for doctors to learn better methods to treat cancer. Still, they are not right for everyone.

If you would like to learn more about clinical trials that might be right for you, start by asking your doctor if your clinic or hospital conducts clinical trials. You can also call our clinical trials matching service at 1-800-303-5691 for a list of studies that meet your medical needs, or see Clinical Trials to learn more.

Considering complementary and alternative methods

You may hear about alternative or complementary treatment methods that your doctor hasn’t mentioned. These methods can include vitamins, herbs, special diets, or other methods such as acupuncture or massage, to name a few.

Complementary methods refer to treatments that are used along with your regular medical care. Alternative treatments are used instead of a doctor’s medical treatment. Although some of these methods might be helpful in relieving symptoms or helping you feel better, many have not been proven to work. Some might even be dangerous.

Be sure to talk to your cancer care team about any method you are thinking about using. They can help you learn what is known (or not known) about the method, which can help you make an informed decision. 

Choosing to stop treatment or choosing no treatment at all

For some people, when treatments have been tried and are no longer controlling the cancer, it is often helpful to weigh the benefits and risks of continuing to try new treatments. Whether or not you continue treatment, there are still things you can do to help maintain or improve your quality of life. Learn more in If Cancer Treatments Stop Working.

Some people, especially if the cancer is advanced, might not want to be treated at all. There are many reasons you might decide not to get cancer treatment, but it’s important to talk this through with your doctors before you make this decision. Remember that even if you choose not to treat the cancer, you can still get supportive care to help with pain or other symptoms.

Help getting through treatment

Your cancer care team will be your first source of information and support, but there are other resources for help when you need it. Hospital- or clinic-based support services are an important part of your care. These might include nursing or social work services, financial aid, nutritional advice, rehab services, or spiritual help.

The American Cancer Society also has programs and services – including rides to treatment, lodging, support groups, and more – to help you get through treatment. Call our National Cancer Information Center at 1-800-227-2345 and speak with one of our trained specialists on call 24 hours a day, every day.

The treatment information here is not official policy of the American Cancer Society and is not intended as medical advice to replace the expertise and judgment of your cancer care team. It is intended to help you and your family make informed decisions, together with your doctor. Your doctor may have reasons for suggesting a treatment plan different from these general treatment options. Don't hesitate to ask him or her questions about your treatment options.