In rare cases, pituitary tumors can run in families or occur due to genetic syndromes that pass down from one generation to the next.

Experts still do not know the exact cause of pituitary tumors.

What they do know is they occur due to changes in the cellular DNA, which a person can inherit in some cases. In the majority of cases, a person acquires them, meaning the DNA changes during the course of a person’s life.

This article reviews whether pituitary tumors run in families, risk factors for their development, tests for diagnosis, and more.

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In rare cases, pituitary tumors can run in families, when the condition passes from a parent to a child. According to the Queen Mary University of London in the United Kingdom, around 1 in 20 pituitary tumors run in families.

In some cases, if a person has a family history of pituitary tumors, genetic syndromes may be responsible.

The majority of pituitary tumors occur due to spontaneous or acquired mutations in the genes of the pituitary cells.

Risk factors include anything that may increase the chances that a person will develop a pituitary tumor.

There are not many known risk factors, but genetic conditions that often run in families can increase the chances a person will develop pituitary tumors.

Some genetic conditions that can increase the risk of a person developing these tumors include:

  • Multiple endocrine neoplasia, type 4 (MEN4): This also increases the risk of parathyroid and pancreas tumors due to changes in the CDKN1B gene.
  • Multiple endocrine neoplasia, type 1 (MEN1): This is similar to MEN4 but results from changes to the MEN1 gene.
  • Carney complex: A rare condition that has an association with changes in skin color as well as the development of several types of benign tumors.
  • Familial isolated pituitary adenoma (FIPA): Causes pituitary tumors to run in families due to changes to the AIP gene and other possible mutations.
  • McCune-Albright syndrome: Can cause brown patches on the skin, bone issues, and possible hormone issues and tumor growth, all due to changes in the GNAS gene that occur before birth.

A doctor may begin testing for pituitary tumors if a person has various symptoms. A doctor will likely:

  • ask questions about their symptoms, such as when they started and how severe they are
  • perform a physical exam
  • take a full personal and family medical history

The doctor may then order various tests to assist with reaching an accurate diagnosis and ruling out other possible causes.

Tests a doctor may order include:

  • hormone blood testing to check for the presence and abundance of different hormones that the pituitary gland creates
  • imaging tests of the head, such as an MRI or CT scan
  • a urine test to check levels of the hormone cortisol, which can indicate Cushing’s syndrome
  • a biopsy, which involves collecting and analyzing tissues of the pituitary gland

Learn about the symptoms of pituitary tumors.

Each year, doctors diagnose about 10,000 new cases of pituitary tumors in the United States. The majority of these tumors are benign, or noncancerous.

The actual number of people living with the tumors may be much higher, with an estimated 1 in 4 people living with a pituitary tumor and not realizing it.

The only known risk factors include genetic syndromes and, rarely, a family history. As a result, a person may not be able to prevent a pituitary tumor from developing.

A person at risk of developing a pituitary tumor, such as those living with MEN1, may want to consider regular screenings to find them early. A doctor will be able to advise a person on how often they should receive screening.

The following sections provide answers to frequently asked questions about pituitary tumors.

Who is most likely to get a pituitary tumor?

People with certain genetic conditions, such as MEN1 or MEN4, have a higher risk of pituitary tumors. However, pituitary tumors rarely run in families and have few other known risk factors.

How fast do pituitary tumors grow?

Pituitary tumors are usually slow-growing. They may not cause any symptoms if they are nonfunctioning (do not produce hormones) or are smaller in size.

What foods should a person with a pituitary tumor avoid?

There are no known foods a person should avoid to prevent or help with treating pituitary tumors. However, eating a healthful diet, getting enough regular physical activity, and maintaining a moderate weight can help improve a person’s overall health.

Learn about treatments for pituitary tumors.

Pituitary tumors are rarely hereditary. However, the exact cause and reason for their development is still not known.

The only known risk factors are genetic conditions. If a person has a genetic syndrome that increases their risk of pituitary tumors, their doctor may recommend routine screening.

If a doctor suspects a person has a pituitary tumor, they can order various tests, such as blood tests, imaging tests, and a biopsy. This can help to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other possible causes of any symptoms a person may be experiencing.