Pituitary Adenoma Diagnosis
A pituitary adenoma is a benign (noncancerous) tumor that develops in the pituitary gland—the pea-sized organ located at the base of the brain. Also known as the “master gland,” the pituitary gland produces and releases hormones that impact critical bodily functions, including blood pressure regulation, growth and reproduction. A pituitary adenoma can disrupt these functions and trigger issues that range from headaches and vision problems to Cushing’s disease, acromegaly and other complex syndromes. In some cases, noticeable symptoms never occur and treatment isn’t necessary.
Individuals who experience any new or unusual symptoms should promptly consult with a medical professional who can diagnose their cause and recommend appropriate treatment. While symptoms such as headaches, vision problems and weight gain are likely related to more common conditions, pituitary adenomas aren’t necessarily rare—in fact, about one in every 10 people will develop a pituitary adenoma in their lifetime.
How is a pituitary adenoma diagnosed?
If a physician suspects that a patient has a pituitary adenoma, he or she will likely order multiple tests to rule out other conditions and confirm a diagnosis. These tests may include:
- A physical exam and review of medical history, during which a physician will look for physical symptoms, check for signs of other conditions and learn about the patient’s risk factors
- Blood and/or urine testing to evaluate hormone levels, which can be disrupted if the pituitary adenoma produces hormones
- Testing for diabetes insipidus, which is a condition that may develop if there is damage in a part of the pituitary gland that stores ADH hormone
- Imaging tests, such as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or computed tomography (CT) scan, to produce images of the brain and pituitary gland for evaluation
- Catheter-based venous blood sampling to identify signs of very small pituitary tumors (corticotroph adenomas) that are difficult to see on imaging tests
Biopsies are rarely used to diagnose a pituitary adenoma, as the pituitary gland is difficult to access through surgery and can often be treated through nonsurgical methods, such as radiation therapy and special medications.
What is the outlook?
There are several factors that will influence a patient’s prognosis, including what type of pituitary adenoma is present, its size and its location within the gland. About half of all pituitary adenomas are classified as functioning tumors, meaning they produce an excess amount of one or more hormones. Too much hormone production can sometimes lead to syndromes that require lifelong management, such as acromegaly and Cushing’s syndrome, and may be fatal if left untreated.
Still, many patients with pituitary adenomas can be successfully treated and live normal, healthy lives. Hormone replacement medications or treatment later in life may be necessary, as adenomas can sometimes recur, but the prognosis for this condition is generally positive.
Moffitt’s approach to pituitary adenomas
At Moffitt Cancer Center, our expertise extends to pituitary adenomas and other benign conditions that require highly specialized care. Our multispecialty team includes neurosurgeons, endocrinologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists and other professionals who collaborate to offer advanced pituitary diagnostics and treatment. And as a high-volume cancer center, our specialists possess a unique level of experience evaluating and treating complex conditions that other physicians seldom see.
Medically reviewed by Dr. Andre Beer-Furlan, skull base and endovascular neurosurgeon