The main treatment option for pituitary tumors involves surgical removal of the tumor. The two types of pituitary tumor surgery are transsphenoidal surgery and craniotomy.

Transsphenoidal surgery is the most common type of surgery for a pituitary tumor. However, in cases where the tumor is larger, a doctor may recommend craniotomy.

A person’s doctor can explain the type of surgery they recommend and answer any questions a person may have. They can also provide information about steps a person may need to take after the surgery to reduce the risk of complications.

This article reviews what surgical options are available for pituitary tumors, the purpose of surgery, when doctors recommend surgery, and more.

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There are two types of pituitary tumor surgery: transsphenoidal surgery and craniotomy.

Transsphenoidal surgery

Transsphenoidal surgery is the most common procedure to remove pituitary tumors. A surgeon inserts a flexible tube into the nose, makes a small incision in the back of the sinus and a hole in the bony walls of the cavity, and then uses tools to cut out and remove the tumor.

Although generally safe and effective, transsphenoidal surgery is not a good option for larger tumors.


If the tumor is larger or involves other complications, a doctor may recommend a craniotomy.

In this procedure, a surgeon makes a hole in the front of the skull toward one side. They then work around the lobe of the brain to reach the pituitary gland and remove the tumor.

Pituitary tumor surgery removes a tumor that is growing on the pituitary gland.

Tumors are often benign (noncancerous), but they can still cause issues if they secrete extra hormones into the body. Surgery can remove tumors that cause issues for a person.

A doctor may recommend a person has surgery to treat a pituitary tumor if the person develops symptoms or if the tumor is malignant (cancerous).

Doctors divide pituitary tumors into two categories: functioning and nonfunctioning.

A nonfunctioning tumor does not produce hormones. As a result, it will not cause issues with other organs and tissues throughout the body.

A functioning tumor produces extra or excessive hormones. The extra hormones can cause changes in various organs and tissues throughout the body. Symptoms can vary greatly based on what hormones it releases.

In both functioning and nonfunctioning tumors, the growing tumor may or may not cause symptoms. If the tumor causes symptoms, a person may notice:

A doctor may recommend different approaches, such as radiation, if the tumor is large or spreads to other parts of the body.

Learn about pituitary adenoma treatments.

It is best for a person to discuss any specific instructions with the surgeon or surgical team before the procedure. The team can provide detailed instructions on when to stop eating, what medications to continue or discontinue, and other important information.

Before the procedure, a surgeon will typically engage in preoperative planning. This can include reviewing medical history, medications, and imaging tests of the tumor. They will also likely test the person’s pituitary gland function.

A person may also need to prepare to stay in the hospital following the procedure.

During the procedure, the person will typically receive general anesthetic, so they will not be aware of what is happening.

The exact procedure can vary based on the type of surgery and tools the surgeon uses.

For transsphenoidal surgery, the surgeon will work through the nose to access the pituitary gland and tumor. The person will not have any visible scars following the removal of the tumor because the surgeon enters through the inside of the nasal cavity.

For a craniotomy, the surgeon will enter through a hole made in the front of the skull. They will work around the brain to access the tumor and remove it. After removal, they will close the opening, and a person will likely have a visible scar.

In most cases, a person will awake from anesthesia in a recovery room in a hospital. They may stay there for a while before being brought to a hospital room.

A person will likely need to stay for around 4 days in the hospital for the staff to assess their recovery and to learn about any special care instructions for once they get home. However, the length of hospital stay may differ for each individual, and a person’s doctor can provide them with additional information about what to expect.

Following release from the hospital, a surgeon or other doctors will likely continue to monitor the person’s health with follow-up appointments and tests. They will check for possible side effects or complications.

It may take some time for a person to resume their typical activities. According to a 2023 article discussing how long it took people to resume daily activities after transsphenoidal surgery for pituitary tumors, 73.3% of people returned to work within 4 months.

The median, or middle, time it took for people to resume various other activities were as follows:

  • 44 days for blowing their nose
  • 59 days for lifting heavy objects
  • 64 days for washing their hair with their head down
  • 102 days for sexual activity

However, it is important to note that while these activities may be suitable for some people to resume after a certain time, it is important for each individual to follow guidance from their doctor or surgeon.

A person may also receive special instructions to follow after surgery. For example, the UK’s National Health Service advises waiting for at least 4 weeks after surgery before a person blows their nose or sneezes.

If a person needs to sneeze, they should sneeze with an open mouth rather than allowing the air through the nose. This may help reduce the risk of infection.

A person’s doctor can provide them with additional information about what they can expect in the weeks and months following pituitary tumor surgery.

The pituitary gland is located just below the brain. The location and the type of surgery can put a person at risk of side effects.

Some common side effects include:

A person should contact their surgeon or doctor if side effects occur following the procedure.

Experts estimate that people who undergo surgery for pituitary tumors who lost some function will regain about 27% of the lost function on average. Hormone therapies can help to correct imbalances.

According to a small 2020 study of over 100 people with pituitary tumors, mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression did not ease following surgery.

A person may or may not notice personality changes following surgery. They can discuss possible changes with their doctor if they have any concerns.

In long-term follow-ups, about 83% of people who undergo pituitary tumor surgery are alive, according to a 2022 report. However, people with metastasized pituitary cancer have a life expectancy of below 4 years.

About 80.5% of people who undergo surgery for malignant pituitary tumors have at least two surgeries, with some undergoing more.

It is important to remember that the outlook following pituitary tumor surgery will differ for each person. It is best for a person to talk with their doctor for more accurate information based on their individual circumstances.

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

How serious is pituitary tumor surgery?

One type of pituitary tumor surgery, transsphenoidal surgery, is minimally invasive. The other, craniotomy, involves making a hole in the skull and working around the brain. In both cases, a person will need to recover in the hospital for a period of time.

As with any surgery, there are also risks of side effects associated with both procedures.

How long does it take to recover from pituitary tumor surgery?

A person should expect to spend a few days in the hospital to recover.

A person may experience congestion or sinus pressure for about 1–2 weeks following the procedure. It may take a number of months for a person to return to their typical activities.

Follow-up appointments to check for issues as well as assess pituitary gland function can help a person and their doctor monitor their progress after the procedure.

Pituitary tumor surgery involves the removal of a pituitary tumor. Pituitary tumors are typically benign but may cause issues due to their size and location or the secretion of additional hormones.

A doctor may recommend surgical removal if a tumor is causing issues or if it is malignant. They will either recommend transsphenoidal surgery or a craniotomy. They may also recommend additional treatments if it is malignant and if it has spread to other areas of the body.

Following surgery, a person can expect to regain some lost function and experience a reduction in symptoms or side effects from the tumor. A person’s doctor can provide them with additional information about what to expect before, during, and after pituitary tumor surgery.