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What Is a Pituitary Tumor?

pituitary tumor is an irregular mass on your pituitary gland (the small gland inside your skull that regulates hormones). A tumor that grows can press on your pituitary gland and change your hormone levels, which affect your growth, weight, and even your moods. 

Pituitary tumors can also press on a part of the eye called the optic chiasm. This pressure can lead to vision loss, double vision, or blindness.

What Is the Difference Between a Pituitary Tumor and a Pituitary Adenoma?

A benign, or non-cancerous, pituitary tumor is called a pituitary adenoma. Because pituitary adenomas are the most common growth in this area, providers may use the terms pituitary adenomas and pituitary tumors interchangeably.

Benign pituitary tumors can also press on your pituitary gland or optic chiasm and cause health problems. When this happens, your provider will discuss treatment, including surgical options, with you.

Why Choose University of Utah Health?

At U of U Health, we offer comprehensive treatment for all types of skull base tumors, including pituitary tumors. When you come to us for pituitary tumor treatment, an entire team of specialized experts guides your care plan. Pituitary tumor treatment involves close coordination among doctors, including neuroradiologists, neuro-ophthalmologists, neurosurgeons, rhinologists, and neuroendocrinologists. We meet weekly to review all our patients’ needs and create a personalized treatment approach.

Our expert surgeons perform minimally invasive pituitary tumor surgeries in over 95 percent of cases, leading directly to reduced pain and quicker recoveries. An open approach, in contrast, comes with a longer, more complicated recovery. We are among the highest-volume centers in the nation for pituitary tumor surgery. We operate on hundreds of patients each year, which translates to increased experience and better patient outcomes.

What to Expect at Your First Visit

Your surgical team may ask you to bring previous test results, including:

  • imaging scans,
  • hormone test results, and
  • ophthalmology reports.

During your first visit, our team will discuss these results with you.

Our specialists may order additional tests to evaluate your hormone levels. Often, your surgical team refers you for a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to look at the tumor. If you’ve already had an MRI, our specialists compare the new images to previous ones to determine if the tumor has changed.

After the evaluation, we will discuss our findings with you and explain the treatment options. We’ll answer your questions about treatment and guide you through the next steps.

Pituitary Tumor Removal: When Is Surgery Needed?

You may not need surgery for a pituitary tumor. Your provider only considers pituitary tumor removal when the tumor:

  • grows quickly or significantly over time,
  • doesn’t respond to other treatment,
  • produces hormones that adversely affect your body, or
  • compresses the area where your nerves cross between your eyes.

Types of Pituitary Tumor Surgeries

Our surgeons perform pituitary tumor removal by inserting surgical tools through your nose (endoscopic transsphenoidal surgery or microsurgical transsphenoidal surgery). Using minimally invasive approaches leads to:

  • less pain,
  • faster recovery, and
  • lower risk of complications.

Transsphenoidal Surgery

Transsphenoidal pituitary surgery is the most common technique for pituitary tumor removal. Transsphenoidal means your surgeon operates through your sphenoid sinus (a hollow space behind your nose and below your brain). Your pituitary gland sits right behind the back of the sphenoid sinus.

During transsphenoidal surgery, a neurosurgeon and rhinologist work together to perform the operation:

  1. Your rhinologist will remove sinus tissue or bone, if needed, to reach the tumor.
  2. Your neurosurgeon will insert an endoscope (a long, thin tube with a tiny camera attached to the end) through your nose or positions a microscope to visualize the tumor.
  3. Your neurosurgeon will use small precision tools to remove the tumor.
  4. Your rhinologist will replace and reconstruct any tissue they removed.

Surgery typically lasts around three to four hours. Immediately after surgery, you will recover in the neurocritical care unit overnight. You’ll stay in the hospital for up to two additional nights before returning home.


Most patients don’t need a craniotomy to remove a pituitary tumor. You only need a craniotomy when the tumor has grown so large that your surgeon can’t safely or completely remove it with other methods.

During a craniotomy, a neurosurgeon temporarily moves a small piece of your skull to access the tumor. Your surgeon removes the tumor and replaces the removed bone at the end of surgery.

Find a Specialist

Next Steps

If you believe you need an evaluation for a pituitary tumor, you can make an appointment with one of our skull base tumor specialists.

No doctor referral is necessary to come visit us, but please check with your insurance first as some insurance companies require referrals.

Get a Consultation

Not located in Utah? You can contact us for a consultation. Once we have scheduled the call, we will set up a phone call to discuss your diagnosis with you. We will also ask you to send us:

  1. Copy of the CD of your MRI images,
  2. Copy of your vision test, and
  3. Any other testing you may have had (endocrinology or other).

Hear From Our Specialists

Pituitary Tumors: Your Questions Answered

Contact the Destination Care Program

The Destination Care Program is an initiative by U of U Health focusing on care for our out-of-state patients. We are here to help you find the services and information you need. Feel free to contact us:
Phone: 801-587-6365