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The Difference Between Adenomas and Carcinomas

Adenomas are the most common disease affecting the pituitary gland. Carcinomas are rare. That’s really good news because adenomas are benign, while carcinomas are malignant.

Both types of pituitary tumors can cause an unexpected range of symptoms if they produce hormones. The team at SCENT - Southern California Ear, Nose, and Throat specializes in diagnosing and treating pituitary tumors, offering comprehensive care that’s customized to meet your health care needs.

Adenomas vs carcinomas

When a tumor develops in your pituitary gland, it’s either an adenoma or carcinoma.

Adenomas

Adenomas are benign, which means they’re not cancerous and won’t spread beyond the pituitary. These tumors usually appear between the ages of 30 and 40, but they can develop in children too. They’re slow-growing tumors, but they can get large enough to affect the surrounding structures.

Carcinomas

Carcinomas are malignant pituitary tumors. These tumors can metastasize, most often spreading into the brain, spinal cord, or the tissues covering the brain. Carcinomas are quite rare, accounting for just 1% of all pituitary tumors.

Symptoms of adenomas and carcinomas

Pituitary adenomas and carcinomas cause the same symptoms. This trait makes them virtually indistinguishable until a cancerous tumor spreads.

The symptoms you experience depend on the size of the tumor, whether it produces hormones, and if so, which hormones it secretes.

Tumor size

Small pituitary tumors tend to secrete hormones that are normally produced in the front part of the pituitary gland. Though they’re small, they’re often detected earlier because they lead to abnormally high or low hormone levels. These hormone changes cause noticeable symptoms.

Large tumors usually don’t produce hormones. They can still cause symptoms as they enlarge and press against the nearby structures. In most cases, large tumors affect the optic nerves.

Functioning tumors

Adenomas and carcinomas may or may not produce pituitary hormones. When either type of tumor releases hormones, it’s called a functioning tumor.

Functioning adenomas and carcinomas may lead to a long list of possible symptoms, depending on the hormone. 

You may experience:

Women may develop breast milk even though they haven’t had a baby.

Treatment for pituitary tumors

The best treatment depends on the type of tumor:

Pituitary carcinomas

The preferred treatment for a cancerous pituitary tumor is surgical removal and radiation therapy. Pituitary cancer is so rare that medical specialists haven’t had the opportunity to treat many patients or develop more advanced options.

When you decide to have surgery, it’s often done through the sphenoid sinus. This sinus is just below the brain and behind your nasal passages, so it can be reached through your nose.

Pituitary adenomas

You may have options when it comes to treating an adenoma. If the adenoma is small and doesn’t cause symptoms, we can keep a close watch on the tumor and your health. Treatment decisions are made down the road if the tumor grows or produces hormones.

In many cases, we can treat a small, hormone-producing adenoma with medications that restore hormonal balance. A large adenoma, however, must be surgically removed. Otherwise, the pressure on your optic nerve can lead to permanent vision loss.

If you have any questions about pituitary adenomas or carcinomas, call SCENT- Southern California Ear, Nose, and Throat, to make an appointment at one of our offices in Long Beach, Los Alamitos, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, or Torrance, California. If you’d like to get started right away, you can request an appointment through online booking now.

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