Various medications can treat some benign and cancerous pituitary tumors. Some may work to shrink tumors, while others work to reduce hormones that the tumor produces.

Most pituitary tumors are benign (noncancerous) and known as prolactinomas. Pituitary tumors grow slowly and are unlikely to spread to other areas of the body. However, they can still affect how the pituitary gland functions, affecting many aspects of health and well-being.

The right pituitary tumor medication depends on the type of tumor a person has, as well as their health and treatment goals.

Read on to learn more about pituitary tumor medication.

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Drugs for prolactinomas are likely effective enough that a doctor does not usually have to perform surgery.

Dopamine agonists

In most cases, a doctor will recommend a dopamine agonist, such as cabergoline (Dostinex) or bromocriptine (Parlodel).

These drugs prevent tumors from producing too much prolactin hormone and can help shrink the tumor. Cabergoline (Dostinex) works better for most people, and a person only has to take it weekly instead of daily.

Dopamine agonists may increase fertility in females experiencing issues because of high prolactin.

Some common side effects include:

Somatotroph tumors, which secrete growth hormone, do not respond as well to medication as some other tumors. Instead, doctors usually surgically remove these tumors. If surgery is not possible or cannot fully remove the tumor, a doctor may recommend medication.

Some potential medications include:

Somatostatin analogs

These drugs block the production of growth hormone. Doctors usually recommend them as injectable long-acting drugs. Examples include:

  • octreotide (Sandostatin)
  • pasireotide (Signifor)
  • lanreotide (Somatuline)

Some side effects include:

  • gas
  • stomach pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • a slower heart rate
  • headache

Others may develop gallstones or diabetes.

Growth hormone antagonists

An example of this medication is pegvisomant (Somavert), which works to prevent growth hormone from acting on the body’s cells, but these drugs do not shrink the tumor.

Pegvisomant (Somavert) is injectable, usually once a day. It can lead to lower blood glucose and, in some people, it may damage the liver.

Dopamine agonists

Doctors must prescribe higher doses of dopamine agonists than with prolactinomas, so certain side effects (mentioned previously) are likely to be more common.

Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)-secreting tumors can cause the pituitary to make too many hormones. This can cause complications such as Cushing’s disease. Surgery is the most effective treatment, but a doctor may also recommend one of the following medications:

Steroidogenesis inhibitors

These work to prevent the adrenal gland from making cortisol, a stress hormone, reducing the effects of ACTH-secreting tumors. Examples include:

  • etomidate (Amidate)
  • ketoconazole (Nizoral)
  • levoketoconazole (Recorlev)
  • mitotane (Lysodren)
  • osilodrostat (Isturisa)

Side effects vary from drug to drug, but can include:

Cushing’s disease

Both pasireotide (Signifor) and cabergoline (Dostinex) can help some people with Cushing’s disease.

Mifepristone (Mifeprex), another drug, works to reduce the effect that cortisol has on the body’s tissue. While it will not shrink the tumor, it can reduce blood sugar in people with Cushing’s disease. Doctors will closely monitor anyone on this medication.

Some side effects it can cause, include:

  • hypokalemia
  • anemia
  • high blood pressure
  • edema

The primary treatment for thyrotropin-stimulating hormone (TSH)-secreting tumors is surgery. However, before surgery, a doctor will want to ensure that the thyroid is functioning as it should.

Octreotide (Sandostatin) is a synthetic hormone that can help restore function. A doctor may also recommend these drugs after surgery if it is not possible to fully remove the tumor. These drugs can lead to side effects typical of somatostatin analogs (mentioned previously).

In some cases, a doctor may recommend other medications — for example, dopamine agonists — depending on a person’s symptoms.

Nonfunctional tumors do not secrete hormones. Typically, they do not need treatment if the person is asymptomatic. Instead, a person may need annual follow-up visits.

When these tumors cause symptoms, surgical removal is the treatment of choice, not medication. Sometimes, a doctor may recommend dopamine agonists or somatostatin analogs after surgery, but these are not the main treatment.

Below are some common questions and answers on the topic.

What is the treatment for aggressive pituitary cancers?

Aggressive cancers are rare, but they can spread quickly. A doctor may prescribe the same drugs that people use for other tumors. However, this can depend on the hormones the tumor secretes.

For aggressive cancers, a person may also need chemotherapy or surgery.

How do you shrink pituitary tumors naturally?

While many natural health blogs purport that certain diets can naturally shrink pituitary tumors, there is no scientific evidence that these interventions work.

Some pituitary tumors that do not grow or release hormones typically might not require treatment. Still, a doctor will want to monitor them to ensure they do not become dangerous.

What is the best treatment for pituitary tumors?

There is no single treatment that works for all pituitary tumors. Instead, the right treatment depends on whether the tumor is cancerous, growing in size, or secreting hormones.

Alongside medication, a doctor may recommend:

  • surgery to remove the tumor
  • chemotherapy to kill cancer cells
  • radiation to kill cancer
  • removal of the adrenal glands in certain cases where a person develops hypercortisolemia, a condition characterized by too much cortisol hormone in the body

Sometimes, a doctor may opt to monitor the condition rather than treat it.

Many different types of pituitary tumors exist. The right medication or other treatment depends on the symptoms a person has, the type of tumor they develop, and how well the tumor responds to treatment.

For many types of tumors, medication can cure the tumor or eliminate symptoms. But for others, a person may need surgery, chemotherapy, or another treatment. A person with a pituitary tumor should consult an endocrinologist for treatment guidance.