Diagnosing Pituitary Tumors

About 10% of people will develop a pituitary tumor at some point in their lives,1 but some pituitary tumors do not cause any symptoms—and many are never even diagnosed. If your doctor suspects a pituitary tumor, he or she will run a few key tests.

However, before performing any tests on you, your doctor will mostly likely do a physical exam and obtain your complete health history and a detailed family health history. Some pituitary tumors are linked to certain genetic conditions, such as multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN 1), which can be passed from generation to generation. Your doctor will want to know if other people in your family have or had MEN 1—or if you have it.

But just because you have MEN 1 or a family history of pituitary tumors and/or MEN 1 doesn't necessarily mean you have a pituitary tumor.

Although a lot can be learned during the history and exam part of your doctor's visit, in order for your doctor to make an accurate diagnosis of a pituitary tumor, he or she will need to run some simple tests:

  • Blood and urine tests: These tests can determine whether you have an excessive amount—or a deficiency—of certain hormones. Your doctor will look for abnormal cortisol and thyroid hormone levels, for example.
  • Imaging tests: A computerized tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of your brain can show the location, size, and shape of a pituitary tumor.
  • Vision tests: These tests can help determine if a pituitary tumor is impacting your vision, especially your peripheral vision.

Your doctor can usually diagnose a pituitary tumor with one or all of these tests, but that's not always the case. If you need additional testing, your doctor may refer you to an endocrinologist.

Being diagnosed with a pituitary tumor doesn't mean that you have cancer. In fact, most pituitary tumors are benign (non-cancerous), which means that they won't spread. However, it's important to diagnose pituitary tumors early on to prevent possible complications of a pituitary tumor.