Prolactinoma is a tumor located in the pituitary gland in the brain near the optic nerves that averages 10 mm in length. The good news is that this kind of tumors is almost always non-cancerous. Prolactinomas still need treatment as they can cause many annoying symptoms and cause complications over time.
These tumors cause the glands to pump too much prolactin, the hormone that makes breast milk, into the bloodstream. The cause of prolactinomas is unknown but women are more prone to get them than men and adults far more than children. It does not seem to be a genetic condition.
Men and women get different symptoms. For women, the most common symptoms are sudden production of breast milk, missed periods, irregular periods, sudden change in blood flow during a period, vaginal dryness which causes pain during vaginal sex, loss of sex drive, painful or sore breasts, headaches and vision problems.
Men may also get headaches, vision problems and loss of sex drive. They also suddenly grow breasts, become impotent and often become infertile.
A particularly large prolactinoma presses down on the optic nerves, causing constant headaches, constant runny nose, nausea, vomiting and numerous vision problems such as tunnel vision or double vision.
It is possible to have a prolactinoma and not have any symptoms. This happens in men more than in women.
Medication is often successful in treating a prolactinoma. The type of medication used is called dopamine agonists which help the brain absorb more dopamine, which helps lower prolactin production. Two of the most common dopamine agonists used is bromocriptine and cabergoline. These medications often cause side effects like nausea, dizziness and problems of the heart valves. Doctors may need to perform heart tests on patients before prescribing a dopamine agonist to make sure the heart is healthy enough for the medication.
Radiation such as used for cancer treatment can help shrink a prolactinoma so that prolactin levels fall in the blood and symptoms ease. Radiation also causes side effects.
Brain surgery to remove the tumor is used only in severe cases.