Benign pituitary tumors are not cancerous but can still cause problems if they compress your brain tissue or optic nerves. Some can lead to the under- or overproduction of certain hormones.

Your pituitary gland is a pea-size gland at the base of your brain that produces many hormones. Tumors that develop in your pituitary gland can be cancerous or noncancerous, also called benign.

Let’s examine some of the most common types of benign pituitary tumors.

Here’s a look at the types of benign tumors that can develop in or near your pituitary gland.

Pituitary neuroendocrine tumors (pituitary adenoma)

Pituitary adenomas, or pituitary neuroendocrine tumors, are the most common pituitary tumors.

Most pituitary neuroendocrine tumors are benign and slow-growing. Doctors often discover them when reviewing CT scans for unrelated reasons.

They’re subclassified as microadenoma if they’re smaller than 1 centimeter (cm) across or macroadenoma if they’re larger than 1 cm.

They can also be subdivided into functional and nonfunctional tumors.

Nonfunctional tumors

Nonfunctional tumors don’t interfere with the production of hormones. But they can cause problems if they grow large enough to compress brain tissue.

Functional tumors

Functional tumors cause hormonal problems. They’re named for the hormone they disrupt. Here’s a general breakdown from the American Cancer Society:


Craniopharyngiomas are estimated to occur in 1 in 500,000–2 million people per year.

They arise near the pituitary gland and can cause pituitary compression. This compression can lead to the underproduction of pituitary hormones.

About half of people with craniopharyngiomas have headaches. Craniopharyngiomas can also compress the optic chiasm or optic nerves, which may lead to vision problems.

Craniopharyngioma, pituitary adenoma, benign tumor on pituitary glandShare on Pinterest
Craniopharyngiomas and pituitary adenomas are two types of benign pituitary gland tumors. Medical Illustration by Maya Chastain.

Rathke cleft cysts

Rathke cleft cysts are common fluid-filled tumors that develop near or on the pituitary gland. Most are small and don’t cause symptoms.

Most Rathke cleft cysts are diagnosed between the ages of 30 and 50 years.


Pituitary gangliocytomas are rare tumors that develop in neurons and can lead to hormonal problems. They make up only about 0.25–1.26% of tumors that develop around the pituitary gland.


Pituicytomas develop in the posterior pituitary gland and may cause hormonal problems. Only 174 cases were reported from 1994–2021. Surgery most often treats this type.

Potential symptoms include:

  • headaches
  • visual changes, like blurry vision or blindness
  • facial numbness or pain
  • loss of consciousness
  • dizziness

Somatotroph adenoma symptoms

In children, high growth hormone can cause:

  • very tall height
  • rapid growth
  • increased sweating
  • joint pain

Adults may have symptoms like:

Corticotroph adenoma symptoms

Corticotrophin-secreting adenomas can cause:

Prolactinoma symptoms

Prolactin-secreting adenomas can cause:

TSH-secreting adenoma symptoms

These can cause:

  • rapid heart rate
  • tremors
  • increased appetite
  • weight loss
  • feeling overly hot or cold
  • sweating
  • trouble sleeping
  • anxiety
  • lump on your neck over the thyroid gland
  • frequent bowel movements

Gonadotroph adenoma symptoms

Gonadotropin-secreting adenomas rarely cause symptoms. They might cause higher levels of sex hormones that can cause irregular menstruation or early signs of puberty.

There are no known lifestyle or environmental causes of pituitary tumors.

Many different gene mutations have been linked to pituitary tumors, such as those in the following genes:

  • AIP
  • GNAS
  • USP8
  • USP48
  • BRAF

Pituitary tumors have not been linked with any particular risk factors. Some people have inherited syndromes that cause clusters of pituitary tumors within families.

Syndromes that increase your risk include:

  • multiple endocrine neoplasia type I or IV
  • McCune-Albright syndrome
  • Carney complex
  • familial isolated pituitary adenoma

Many pituitary tumors are discovered during brain imaging for unrelated reasons. Blood tests can reveal hormone changes that suggest a functional pituitary tumor.

Surgery is the primary treatment for most pituitary tumors. Surgical techniques include:

  • Transsphenoidal surgery: An incision is made through your nose to access your pituitary gland through the sphenoid bone.
  • Craniotomy: Part of the front or side of the skull is removed to access your pituitary gland and remove the tumor.

Medications can help treat high or low hormone levels.

You might receive radiation therapy if:

  • surgery isn’t an option
  • the tumor comes back after surgery
  • the tumor causes symptoms that medication cannot control

Attend all your follow-up appointments after your diagnosis to determine whether your tumor is getting bigger. Also let your doctor know if you notice a change in your symptoms, like worsening vision loss.

Here are some frequently asked questions people have about benign pituitary tumors.

How serious is a tumor on the pituitary gland?

Some pituitary tumors cause no or minimal symptoms. Functioning tumors can cause hormonal problems, which can have a poorer outlook.

Do benign pituitary tumors need to be removed?

A benign pituitary tumor may not need to be removed if it’s not causing problems and your doctor thinks it’s going to progress slowly.

What is the survival rate for benign pituitary tumors?

Many benign pituitary tumors do not affect life span. Tumors that produce excess hormones may lead to premature death if medications are not effective.

Benign pituitary tumors are not cancerous. However, they can still cause problems if they compress brain tissue.

Your doctor may recommend removing a benign pituitary tumor if they expect it to get bigger and cause problems. Small and slow-growing tumors often don’t require treatment.