Can Pituitary Tumors Be Found Early?

Many pituitary tumors aren’t detected until they start to cause signs and symptoms. But some pituitary tumors are found early with imaging tests or blood tests.

For people with an increased risk of pituitary tumors

For members of families known to have an increased risk of pituitary tumors because of a genetic syndrome such as multiple endocrine neoplasia, type I (MEN1), doctors often recommend regular blood testing of pituitary hormone levels. These tests can often help find a tumor early so that it can be removed completely, which increases the chance for a cure.

For people who don't have an increased risk

For most people, screening for pituitary tumors is not recommended. (Screening is testing for a disease such as a pituitary tumor in people without any symptoms.)

Sometimes a pituitary tumor is found early because a person has a CT or MRI scan of the head for some other reason. These tumors are sometimes referred to as pituitary incidentalomas, because they are found incidentally (by accident). Incidentalomas might not need to be treated, as long as they aren’t causing any problems, although the doctor might recommend watching them over time to make sure they aren’t growing.

Functional pituitary adenomas (tumors that make excess hormones like prolactin or ACTH) are often found when they are still small because the excess hormones cause symptoms.

Non-functional pituitary tumors (tumors that don’t make enough hormones to cause symptoms) are less likely to be found early. These tumors typically don’t cause symptoms until they’ve grown large enough to press on nearby normal pituitary cells, nerves, or parts of the brain near the pituitary.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Dorsey JF, Salinas RD, Dang M, et al. Chapter 63: Cancer of the central nervous system. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa. Elsevier: 2020.

National Cancer Institute. Physician Data Query (PDQ). Pituitary Tumors Treatment. 2020. Accessed at https://www.cancer.gov/types/pituitary/patient/pituitary-treatment-pdq on July 12, 2022.

Snyder PJ. Clinical manifestations and diagnosis of gonadotroph and other clinically nonfunctioning pituitary adenomas. UpToDate. 2022. Accessed at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/clinical-manifestations-and-diagnosis-of-gonadotroph-and-other-clinically-nonfunctioning-pituitary-adenomas on July 6, 2022.

Written by

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Revised: October 10, 2022