Pituitary Tumors: Growth-Hormone Producing Tumors

Approximately 15 to 20 percent of pituitary tumors secrete growth hormone, which can cause a disorder known as gigantism in children or acromegaly in adults. In this rare condition, the whole body or parts of the body grow larger than normal.

Growth hormone–producing tumors are most commonly found in people around the age of 20, or between the ages of 50 and 55. These tumors tend to grow very quickly in young people and more slowly in adults. 

Symptoms

Most growth hormone–secreting tumors are large in size and may cause disturbances in vision as the tumor presses on the nearby optic nerve.

In children, symptoms of gigantism may include:

  • being very tall (sometimes over seven feet)
  • very rapid growth
  • joint pain
  • increased sweating

In adults, symptoms of acromegaly may include:

  • abnormal growth of the skull, hands, and feet
  • deepening of the voice
  • a change in the appearance of the face as facial bones grow
  • an increase in spacing between the teeth as the jawbone grows (acromegaly is sometimes first noticed during a routine visit to the dentist)
  • joint pain
  • increased sweating
  • diabetes
  • frequent kidney stones
  • heart disease
  • headaches

Diagnosis

A blood test to measure levels of the growth hormone may be used in diagnosing this type of tumor. In addition, an MRI scan may be used to assess the tumor’s size and exact location.

Treatment

Surgery is the primary therapy for growth hormone–secreting tumors.

At Memorial Sloan Kettering, we use a minimally invasive approach called transsphenoidal transnasal resection. During this operation, your surgeon removes the tumor through an incision in the nasal passage.

Alternatively, if your doctors have determined that the tumor is too large to be removed through the nose, it may be necessary to perform a craniotomy, a procedure in which surgeons remove the tumor through an incision in the front of the skull.

If surgery alone is not curative, we may recommend external-beam radiation therapy as an additional treatment. Intensity-modulated radiation therapy, in which special equipment delivers highly targeted doses of radiation, is sometimes used as well.

Some patients are given injections of a medication known as octreotide acetate (Sandostatin®). Usually given once a month, this long-acting drug works by suppressing growth hormone production. Another medication, called pegvisomant (Somavert®), is also effective for certain patients.

Because people with excess growth hormone are at increased risk for developing tumors in the colon, we encourage you to speak to your doctor about scheduling regular colonoscopies.