Abnormal growths that occur in the pineal gland (which is responsible for producing melotonin to regulate sleep cycles), pineal tumors—which can be classified as germ cell or pineal parenchymal tumors or gliomas—are quite rare among adults and appear more often in children and adolescents.
Simply put, tumors are abnormal growths due to unnecessary cell multiplication that serves no proper function in the human body. Typically, cell multiplication is controlled by suppressor genes, which continually act to protect cells from cancer-causing genes known as oncogenes. However, when suppressor genes fail because of changes in their protein coding, tumor can develop as cell division becomes unregulated.
Whereas our body’s built-in defenses find and destroy these abnormal cells, naturally occurring chemicals sometimes hamper the ability of our immune system to see these cells, as which point they become strong enough and exist in large enough numbers to overpower any of body’s defenses.
As with any type of tumor affecting the brain, the symptoms of pineal tumors vary according to the tumor’s location, type and size. However, when signs of the condition do present, symptoms usually include headaches, chronic fatigue, seizures, vision problems and issues with memory loss.
Furthermore, if a pineal tumor impedes the flow of cerebrospinal fluid by blocking a ventricle of the brain, hydrocephalus—which can be fatal if left untreated—can result and present with symptoms such as changes in mood and behavior and nausea.
A neurological examination that checks eye, ear and nose functions as well as tests for balance and coordination, mental acuity and hormone levels can detect the possible presence of a pineal tumor, and image testing (CT scans and MRIs) can confirm a diagnosis as well as the size, location and type of tumor. A biopsy will also be necessary to determine the tumor’s nature and the degree to which it may be aggressive and/or spreading.
Once diagnosed, a pineal tumor will be treated with surgery to remove the affected cells as well as radiation and chemotherapy (especially recommended for patients under the age of three and for specific types of pineal tumors).