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She thought her weight gain was due to giving birth. She learned it was a tumor


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Dr. Irmanie Hemphill, who first thought her weight gain was due to having a baby. Doctors at Cleveland Clinic Florida in Weston diagnosed her with a tumor in the pituitary gland in her brain.

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In the summer of 2019, Irmanie Hemphill gained a lot of weight, developed acne and had high blood pressure. She attributed it to her body adjusting from giving birth just six weeks prior.

“I was thinking maybe it was just hormonal changes from having a baby,” said Hemphill, 38, of Pembroke Pines.

But when Hemphill, a family medicine physician, saw that her nails were turning dark and she gained five pounds within a week, she knew it was something more serious.

Blood tests ordered by her physician came back normal, with the exception of high levels of cortisol detected via a urine cortisol test, which she requested after researching her symptoms online.

The next step was to find out where the excess cortisol was coming from: either her kidneys or her adrenal glands, which produce hormones in response to signals from the pituitary gland in the brain.

The first MRI of her brain did not detect anything abnormal, so her endocrinologist attributed her symptoms to her body adjusting post-pregnancy.

Hemphill sought a second opinion at Cleveland Clinic Weston, where more MRIs of her brain, combined with an Inferior Petrosal Sinus Sampling (IPSS) procedure, detected she had a tumor on her pituitary gland. That led her to be diagnosed with Cushing’s Disease — caused by excess cortisol.

TWO TYPES OF PITUITARY TUMORS

There are two types of pituitary tumors: those that produce active hormones, like the one Hemphill had, and those that do not, which grow in size over time and do not manifest symptoms right away.

Hemphill’s tumor was producing adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which causes the adrenal gland to produce more cortisol.

Many people with Cushing’s Disease experience high blood pressure and high blood sugar, muscle fatigue, easy bruising and brain fog. If left untreated, the condition can lead to pulmonary embolisms, diabetes, osteoporosis, strokes and heart attacks.

“It was a little bit of relief but also sadness,” said Hemphill, of finding out her diagnosis. “I was very happy that I got a diagnosis but now it’s like, what’s the next step?”

LESS INVASIVE WAY TO REMOVE A PITUITARY TUMOR

Hospitals in South Florida are at the forefront in developing new research, techniques and technologies for pituitary tumors.

The tiny bean-shaped pituitary gland is located at the base of the brain and controls many of the body’s hormonal and metabolic functions.

Last June, neurosurgeon Dr. Hamid Borghei-Razavi of Cleveland Clinic Weston removed Hemphill’s pituitary tumor through her nose. This type of procedure allows surgeons to remove the tumor without damaging the brain.

“It’s a less-invasive approach compared to 20 years ago, when pituitary tumors were removed through the cranium,” he said. “Now, with new technologies, more than 95% of pituitary tumors can be removed through the nose.”

The procedure takes just a few hours to complete, based on the size and location of the tumor. Patients usually stay at the hospital for one to two days afterward for observation.

The removal of Hemphill’s tumor, which was three to four millimeters in size, put an end to her Cushing’s Disease and her symptoms, though it took six months to a year for Hemphill to feel normal. (She was prescribed cortisol for six months until her adrenal glands could restart producing cortisol on their own.)

“Sometimes it’s very hard to make a diagnosis for pituitary tumors because we don’t see them in the MRIs,” said Borghei-Razavi.

“We call it MRI Negative Cushing’s Syndrome. It means we don’t see it in the MRI, but the cells are there,” he said.

Borghei-Razavi and Hemphill credit the Inferior Petrosal Sinus Sampling (IPSS) test as pinpointing her tumor. Cleveland Clinic Weston is among only a handful of medical practices in South Florida that use this technique.

Three Ways to Remove the Tumor

Most pituitary tumors are benign. The challenge is when it comes to removing the tumor.

“Pituitary tumors come in all shapes and sizes,” says Dr. Zoukaa Sargi, a head and neck surgeon at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami.

“There are non-functional tumors that do not secrete hormones that can reach extreme sizes of up to 10 centimeters before coming to medical attention. This is the equivalent of the size of a grapefruit,” he says.

“Then there are functional tumors that produce hormones that are typically discovered much sooner and can be only a few millimeters in size before coming to medical attention. A small proportion, less than 1%, are malignant,” he adds.

There are three treatment options for pituitary tumors: surgical removal, medical therapy and radiation.

“Medical therapy is only applicable in certain functional tumors that produce hormones,” says Dr. Ricardo Komotar, a neurosurgeon who is director of the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center Brain Tumor Initiative.

“Radiation is an option primarily for inoperable tumors with high surgical risk. Surgical removal is the optimal treatment in the vast majority of pituitary cases, conferring the greatest benefit with the lowest morbidity,” he says.

Dr. Rupesh Kotecha, chief of radiosurgery at Miami Cancer Institute (MCI), part of Baptist Health South Florida, says there are a number of different hormones that the pituitary gland can secrete.

“Prolactin is the most common form of pituitary adenoma that’s functioning and accounts for 30% to 50%,” he said.

Excess prolactin can cause the production of breast milk in men and in women who are not pregnant or breastfeeding.

Kotecha said the next most common are growth-hormone secreting tumors, which occur in 10% of patients.

ACTH-secreting adenomas — the kind that Hemphill had — account for 5% of patients, while 1% secrete TSH, which causes the thyroid gland to be overactive.

MCI’s Proton Therapy delivers high-dose radiation that treats the tumor’s area, allowing for surrounding tissues and organs to be spared from the effects of radiation.

“The pituitary gland essentially sits in the middle of the brain,” says Kotecha. “It’s sitting in the middle of all of these critical structures.”

From https://www.miamiherald.com/living/health-fitness/article251653033.html

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