Is a Pituitary Tumor Considered Brain Cancer?

A tumor that develops in the pituitary gland is typically considered to be a type of brain cancer. The pituitary gland, which is responsible for producing and releasing hormones into the body, is located inside the skull, just beneath the brain and above the nasal passages. While the pituitary gland is not made up of brain tissue, it is directly connected to a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. Pituitary tumors can also compress the brain as they grow, leading to difficulties with speech, fine motor skills and vision. As a result, pituitary tumors are typically treated by oncologists who specialize in brain cancer.

What are the main types of pituitary tumors?

Depending on its specific characteristics, a pituitary tumor may be classified as a:

  • Benign noninvasive pituitary adenoma
  • Benign invasive pituitary adenoma
  • Malignant invasive pituitary carcinoma

The majority of pituitary tumors are benign (noncancerous), with malignant (cancerous) pituitary tumors being very rare. Additionally, a pituitary tumor can be either functioning or non-functioning. Functioning tumors produce extra hormones, such as growth hormone, thyroid-stimulating hormone or prolactin, while non-functioning tumors do not produce hormones.

How are pituitary tumors treated?

Different treatments are recommended for the various types of pituitary tumors. Some small, benign tumors may not require treatment; instead, a "watch and wait" approach may be taken. A pituitary tumor that is growing rapidly or causing neurological symptoms may be treated with surgery, radiosurgery, external beam radiation therapy, proton therapy, hormone-blocking medications or a combination of several of these options. Some people also enroll in clinical trials to access new pituitary tumor treatment options, such as immunotherapies.

At Moffitt Cancer Center, patients with brain and pituitary gland tumors can consult with experienced medical and radiation oncologists, surgeons, endocrinologists and supportive care providers. To request an appointment, call 1-888-663-3488 or submit a new patient registration form online. No referral is required.