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Pituitary Tumors

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Diagnosing and Treating a Pituitary Tumor

If you have experienced any neurological symptoms that concern you, tell your doctor about them. The doctor will probably perform a basic neurological exam, including:

  • reflexes
  • muscle strength
  • eye movement
  • coordination
  • alertness

If your doctor finds any cause for concern, you will probably have some imaging and laboratory tests done to look for clues to the source of the symptoms. Those imaging tests typically include:

X-rays can produce images of bones and organs and provide a quick and noninvasive glimpse into the body.

Blood, saliva, and urine tests can reveal abnormalities in hormone levels that suggest a pituitary tumor.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computerized tomography (CT) scans produce detailed images of the brain and spine and allow doctors to detect the presence of a tumor. They are much more detailed than X-rays. Both of these tests are noninvasive, but they do require time in a scanner to produce tiny slices of images that are then combined into three-dimensional pictures. Sometimes the patient will need a special contrast agent in advance to increase the visibility of any abnormality found. Some pituitary tumors are too small to show up on these scans, so more advanced dynamic hormonal testing may be necessary to make the diagnosis if the suspicion for one exists.

Treatment Options
Once the tumor has been identified, your treatment plan may include:

Observation: Some pituitary tumors are discovered incidentally, meaning that the tumor is seen on a scan that’s done for some other reason, such as after an injury or accident. If the tumor is not causing any symptoms, it may not require any treatment at all — but it should still be evaluated by an expert in pituitary tumors to ensure an accurate diagnosis and a sound treatment plan.

Medical treatment: Some functional tumors may be treated with medications, either as a sole treatment (prolactinoma), in preparation for surgery (acromegaly, Cushing's disease), or for the long term if surgery is not feasible or curative. Potential hormonal deficiencies secondary to a tumor need to be treated as well.

Surgery:  Advanced endoscopic techniques allow expert surgeons to remove pituitary tumors through the nose, with no incisions and no scarring. See Surgery for Pituitary Tumors.

Stereotactic radiosurgery: Commonly referred to as CyberKnife and Gamma Knife, stereotactic radiosurgery is not traditional surgery at all. This procedure uses highly focused beam of radiation to target tumor cells while avoiding healthy brain tissue. See more about our Stereotactic Radiosurgery Program.

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Reviewed by: Georgiana Dobri, M.D.
Last reviewed/last updated: December 2020