Treatment of Pituitary Tumors

Different types of treatments are available for patients with pituitary tumors. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. Four types of standard treatment are used:

Surgery

Many pituitary tumors can be removed by surgery using one of the following operations:
  • Transsphenoidal surgery: A type of surgery in which the instruments are inserted into part of the brain by going through an incision (cut) made under the upper lip or at the bottom of the nose between the nostrils and then through the sphenoid bone (a butterfly-shaped bone at the base of the skull) to reach the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland lies just above the sphenoid bone.
  • Endoscopic transsphenoidal surgery: A type of surgery in which an endoscope is inserted through an incision (cut) made at the back of the inside of the nose and then through the sphenoid bone to reach the pituitary gland. An endoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light, a lens for viewing, and a tool for removing tumor tissue.
  • Craniotomy: Surgery to remove the tumor through an opening made in the skull.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type of the cancer being treated. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. Stereotactic radiation surgery uses a rigid head frame attached to the skull to aim a single large dose of radiation directly to a tumor, causing less damage to nearby healthy tissue. It is also called stereotaxic radiosurgery, radiosurgery, and radiation surgery. This procedure does not involve surgery.

Drug therapy

Drugs may be given to stop a functioning pituitary tumor from making too many hormones.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy may be used as palliative treatment for pituitary carcinomas, to relieve symptoms and improve the patient’s quality of life. Chemotherapy uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type of the cancer being treated.

Clinical Trials

A clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment. . Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.

Follow-up

Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests. This is sometimes called re-staging. Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.    
Sources
National Cancer Institute http://www.cancer.gov
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/pituitary_tumors/pituitary_tumors.htm
Medscape from WebMD (incidence figures only) http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/123223-overview