Pituitary gland

You are here: 

Treatments for pituitary gland tumours

If you have a pituitary gland tumour, your healthcare team will create a treatment plan just for you. It will be based on your health and specific information about the tumour. When deciding which treatments to offer you, your healthcare team will consider:

  • the type and size of the tumour
  • if the tumour has grown into (invaded) nearby areas
  • if the tumour makes too many hormones (called a functioning tumour) and which hormones are being made
  • any symptoms you are having
  • your personal preferences

You may be offered one or more of the following treatments for a pituitary gland tumour.


Depending on the size and type of pituitary gland tumour and if the tumour has grown into nearby areas, you may have one of the following types of surgery.

Transsphenoidal surgery is done to remove most pituitary gland tumours. Surgical tools are used to remove the tumour through the nose and a sinus near the pituitary gland (called the sphenoid sinus). Transsphenoidal surgery may done using an endoscope.

Craniotomy is done to remove very large tumours or tumours that are hard to remove with transsphenoidal surgery. It opens the skull to remove the tumour.

Bilateral adrenalectomy is sometimes done to treat Cushing disease caused by an adenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)–producing tumour when other treatments don’t work. A bilateral adrenalectomy removes both adrenal glands.

Radiation therapy

External beam radiation therapy is sometimes used to treat pituitary gland tumours that are not completely removed by surgery or if the tumour comes back (recurs) after treatment. It may also be used if surgery can’t be done. Special types of external beam radiation therapy, such as stereotactic radiosurgery or intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), may be used.

In very rare cases, peptide receptor radionuclide therapy (PRRT) may be used for pituitary carcinoma. It is a type of radioisotope therapy that is usually only available through a clinical trial.

Drug therapy

Drug therapy is most commonly used to treat pituitary gland tumours that make too many hormones (functioning tumours). Sometimes drugs are used to replace hormones in the body because hormone levels are too low. Which drugs are used depends mainly on which hormones are affected. In rare cases, drugs can be used to destroy tumour cells.

Follow-up care

Follow-up after treatment is an important part of your care. You will need to have regular follow-up visits after treatment, especially to check hormone levels. These visits allow your healthcare team to monitor your progress and recovery from treatment.

Clinical trials

A few clinical trials in Canada are open to people with pituitary gland tumours. Clinical trials look at new ways to prevent, find and treat tumours and cancer. Find out more about clinical trials.

Questions to ask about treatment

To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about treatment.


A hollow space, channel or passageway in the body.

Examples of sinuses include the air-filled spaces in the skull around the nose and eyes or a passage leading to an abscess (collection of pus). It can also refer to a channel for the passage of blood or lymph fluid.


A thin, tube-like instrument with a light and lens used to examine or treat organs or structures in the body.

An endoscope can be flexible or rigid. It may have a tool to remove tissue for examination. Specialized endoscopes may have tools designed to examine or treat specific organs or structures in the body.

Specialized endoscopes are named for the organ or structure they are used to examine or treat.

adrenal gland

A small gland on top of each kidney that produces a variety of hormones involved in different body functions, including metabolism (the chemical processes needed for cell function, growth and reproduction), heart rate, blood pressure and controlling blood sugar levels.

external radiation therapy

A type of radiation therapy that uses a machine outside the body to direct a beam of radiation through the skin to a specific part of the body, usually a tumour.

Also called external beam radiation therapy.


A substance or element that gives off radiation.

Radioisotopes can be used in imaging tests and cancer treatments. When a radioisotope is mixed with a medicine or drug, it is called a radiopharmaceutical.

Also called radioactive isotope.

clinical trial

A research study that tests new ways to prevent, detect, treat or manage a disease (such as cancer) on eligible, informed and willing human participants.

Clinical trials are conducted in several steps, which are referred to as phase 0 trial, phase I trial, phase II trial, phase III trial and phase IV trial.

Clinical trials that are currently accepting new participants are referred to as open clinical trials. Those that are no longer accepting new participants are referred to as closed clinical trials.

Also called clinical study.