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Pituitary Tumor Questions

Are all pituitary tumors benign?

Malignant pituitary tumors are extremely rare. In fact, over 99 percent of pituitary tumors are benign. After meeting with you and running tests, your doctors will be able to tell if there’s a chance your pituitary tumor is malignant. 

How do I know if my pituitary tumor secretes hormones?

If you have been diagnosed with a pituitary tumor, you’ll need blood tests to determine whether your tumor secretes hormones. Some patients receive additional testing through our Penn Dynamic Testing Unit, which helps endocrinologists gather even more information about the nature of the tumor. 

Can a pituitary tumor be treated with medication?

Some pituitary tumors can be treated with medication. This treatment decision requires hormonal testing in consultation with a neuroendocrinologist. Treating a pituitary tumor with medication requires long-term, ongoing treatment and regular check-ins with your care team.  In most cases, medication is well tolerated.

How safe is pituitary tumor surgery?

Pituitary surgery is exceptionally safe in the hands of an experienced surgeon. Nationally, fewer than 1 percent of patients have severe complications. Those who do typically have very advanced diseases or are medically frail prior to surgery. 

Is it better to have pituitary tumor surgery close to home or at a major medical center?

While there may be good neurosurgeons close to your home, there are only a small number of centers with deep expertise and experience in treating pituitary tumors. Penn Medicine is one of them. The best results come from experienced surgeons who perform at least 50 endoscopic pituitary procedures per year. Our Surgical Director has one of the largest ongoing pituitary surgery practices in the nation. 

What is the recovery process like after pituitary tumor surgery?

After surgery, you’ll go home the very next day. There’s no nasal packing, so you’ll breathe through your nose right away. You should not expect physical impairment after surgery, and most people safely recover on their own at home. The biggest physical discomfort you can expect is a stuffy nose, which goes away after two weeks. You’ll also be limited in your ability to lift heavy objects and drive right after your surgery. 

How will I know if my pituitary tumor has been fully removed?

You’ll have an MRI within three months of your surgery. If the MRI reveals a residual tumor, your doctors will watch it carefully to see if it’s growing. All patients have an annual MRI for at least five years after surgery, even if the surgery was successful in removing all of the tumor, because occasionally they can recur. 

Should I have my tumor treated with radiation instead of surgery?

Because pituitary tumors are usually benign, it’s better to start with a treatment that has a lower risk of complications, such as surgery or medication when appropriate. Radiation therapy is reserved for tumors that recur even after past surgeries. 

What is the difference between the main types of radiation therapy used for recurrent pituitary tumors?

Gamma Knife treatment focuses beams of radiation directly on the tumor in order to damage its cells. Patients treated with Gamma Knife undergo a single one-day outpatient procedure under mild sedation and local anesthesia. CyberKnife is a non-invasive type of radiation therapy that doesn’t require an incision or anesthesia. Patients usually receive this treatment over three to five days.

Gamma Knife and CyberKnife are suited for smaller pituitary tumors that aren’t close to critical brain structures. For tumors that are large, irregular, or located near critical brain structures, fractional therapy may be recommended instead. This treatment is given in 20 to 30 short sessions. 

How will Penn’s Pituitary Center team work with my doctors at home?

We recognize that many patients need to travel long distances to come to our center. That’s why we use every opportunity to collaborate with doctors close to your home. To better serve you, we may be able to offer video visits, alternate visits or arrange tests and procedures close to home if appropriate.

To minimize your travel, we also schedule appointments with multiple Penn Pituitary Center specialists in the same day.

 

How long will I need to follow up with my pituitary team after surgery or medication?

You’ll continue to follow up with your team for at least five years. 

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