Pituitary tumour vs brain tumour

The Pituitary Foundation supports the position that pituitary tumours are not brain tumours.

There is a great deal of debate on this subject and we understand that for many pituitary patients the distinction is an important one.

Our medical committee (26 of the UK's foremost endocrine experts) lead our understanding of endocrinology. They are clear that while the pituitary is in close proximity to the brain, it is not part of the brain.

We recognise that some sources, including the NHS, do class these as brain tumours.

Our Medical Committee say...

Bristol University's Professor Stafford Lightman MBBChir, PhD(Cantab), FMedSci, FRCP, President-Elect of the British Neuroscience Association, said:

“Brain tissue consists of either nerve cells or astrocytes. Pituitary tissue is glandular tissue of completely different origin. [...] Just because it is in the head and physically attached to the brain does not make it part of the brain."

He added: "Any basic anatomy book states very clearly that the anterior pituitary is a glandular tissue that is not part of the central nervous system and is not made up of nervous tissue."

 

Professor John Newell-Price MA PhD FRCP, Chairman of our Medical Committee, Professor of Endocrinology and Consultant Endocrinologist said:

“Pituitary tumours arise from the pituitary gland that lies on the floor on the inside of the skull, underneath and separate from the brain, back behind the eyes.  These are not brain tumours, and the pituitary is not part of the brain itself. Pituitary tumours can either produce excess hormones, cause lack of hormones or the hormones from the pituitary gland can be present at the correct and normal amount. If there is a large pituitary tumour it can press on the eye nerves and cause problems with vision, and in some patients there can be bleeding into the pituitary gland a condition known as pituitary apoplexy.   In almost every case a pituitary tumour is a benign non-cancerous tumour. Treatment is co-ordinated by an expert endocrinologist and pituitary surgeon, if surgery is needed. In many cases pituitary surgery is not needed for patients, but many patients need to take tablets and other treatments to replace the hormones that the body needs to maintain life.”

How we use this information 

Given the limited information and awareness of pituitary conditions in the UK, we feel that classifying pituitary adenomas as brain tumours for simplicity is wrong. While it may be easier to explain to the general public, it is not anatomically correct.

Importantly, when informing new patients of pituitary conditions, the news that they have a “brain tumour” has a serious impact at an extremely sensitive time. Our Helplines hear of many patients being told they have a ‘brain tumour’ and the caller is in great distress about those words.

The connotation for them is unthinkable. Our information and support teams explain the distinction of a malignant brain tumour and a 99.9% benign (non-cancerous) pituitary tumour without inappropriately playing down of the significance of their pituitary condition.

We believe that pituitary patients and the general public are best served by being given clear and accurate information on this subject. 

Our medical committee are at the forefront of understanding of endocrinology in the UK. As understanding grows and classifications change our position will reflect those changes.

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