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 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 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.
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Last Revised: October 10, 2022