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Pituitary tumors, which are generally anterior lobe adenomas, make up from 10% to 15% of all intracranial neoplasms. Approximately 15% of all intracranial tumors are pituitary tumors that cause symptoms. About 2000 new pituitary tumors are diagnosed each year in the United States, but very few are fatal. Microadenomas are smaller than 1 cm, and macroadenomas are larger than 1 cm. While microademonas may cause complications because of overproduced pituitary hormones, they generally do not damage surrounding tissue. Because of their size, macroadeno-mas can be locally invasive, often damaging normal pituitary tissue and nearby nerves and parts of the brain. Most pituitary tumors are nonmalignant, but because of their invasiveness they are considered neoplastic conditions.

Some 75% of pituitary adenomas are functional (hormone-producing) tumors. The hormone produced by an adenoma strongly influences its signs and symptoms, and thus the choice of diagnostic tests and treatment. Adenomas are classified as prolactinomas, or prolactin-producing adenomas (30% of pituitary tumors); somatotrophin-secreting adenomas (15% to 20%); corticoptrophin, or adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)-secreting adenomas (10% to 15%); gonadotrophin-secreting adenomas (very small percentage); thyrotropin-secreting adenomas (very small percentage); null cell adenomas (15% to 20%); and plurihormal (mixed-cell) adenomas. The outlook for survival also varies, depending on what kind of adenoma exists. Other types of tumors include craniopharyngiomas (benign tumors that develop next to the pituitary that do not make pituitary hormones but can disrupt hormone production by compressing the pituitary gland), teratomas, germinomas, and choriocarcinomas (uncommon tumors that occur most often in children or young adults), and Rathke's cleft cysts and gangliocytomas (uncommon tumors that are usually found in adults).

Pituitary tumors lead to hormone excess, hormone deficiencies, or any combination of imbalances. In addition, as the tumor grows, it replaces normal pituitary gland tissue. Complications from pituitary tumors include loss of hormonal function in all systems of the body and compression of central nervous system structures such as the hypothalamus. Complications of surgery include hemorrhage, infection, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leak, and diabetes insipidus.

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