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Diagnosis and Management of Pituitary AdenomasA Review

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Importance  Pituitary adenomas are neoplasms of the pituitary adenohypophyseal cell lineage and include functioning tumors, characterized by the secretion of pituitary hormones, and nonfunctioning tumors. Clinically evident pituitary adenomas occur in approximately 1 in 1100 persons.

Observations  Pituitary adenomas are classified as either macroadenomas (≥10 mm) (48% of tumors) or microadenomas (<10 mm). Macroadenomas may cause mass effect, such as visual field defects, headache, and/or hypopituitarism, which occur in about 18% to 78%, 17% to 75%, and 34% to 89% of patients, respectively. Thirty percent of pituitary adenomas are nonfunctioning adenomas, which do not produce hormones. Functioning tumors are those that produce an excess of normally produced hormones and include prolactinomas, somatotropinomas, corticotropinomas, and thyrotropinomas, which produce prolactin, growth hormone, corticotropin, and thyrotropin, respectively. Approximately 53% of pituitary adenomas are prolactinomas, which can cause hypogonadism, infertility, and/or galactorrhea. Twelve percent are somatotropinomas, which cause acromegaly in adults and gigantism in children, and 4% are corticotropinomas, which secrete corticotropin autonomously, resulting in hypercortisolemia and Cushing disease. All patients with pituitary tumors require endocrine evaluation for hormone hypersecretion. Patients with macroadenomas additionally require evaluation for hypopituitarism, and patients with tumors compressing the optic chiasm should be referred to an ophthalmologist for formal visual field testing. For those requiring treatment, first-line therapy is usually transsphenoidal pituitary surgery, except for prolactinomas, for which medical therapy, either bromocriptine or cabergoline, is usually first line.

Conclusions and Relevance  Clinically manifest pituitary adenomas affect approximately 1 in 1100 people and can be complicated by syndromes of hormone excess as well as visual field defects and hypopituitarism from mass effect in larger tumors. First-line therapy for prolactinomas consists of bromocriptine or cabergoline, and transsphenoidal pituitary surgery is first-line therapy for other pituitary adenomas requiring treatment.

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Article Information

Corresponding Author: Karen K. Miller, MD, Neuroendocrine Unit and Neuroendocrine and Pituitary Tumor Clinical Center, Massachusetts General Hospital, 100 Blossom St, Cox 140, Boston, MA 02114 (kkmiller@mgh.harvard.edu).

Accepted for Publication: March 20, 2023.

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: Dr Miller reported receiving study medication at no cost from Pfizer for an investigator-initiated study and having a consulting agreement with Metabolic Flux NewCo. No other disclosures were reported.

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  • 1.00 MOC points in the American Board of Pediatrics’ (ABP) Maintenance of Certification (MOC) program;
  • 1.00 Lifelong Learning points in the American Board of Pathology’s (ABPath) Continuing Certification program; and
  • 1.00 credit toward the CME [and Self-Assessment requirements] of the American Board of Surgery’s Continuous Certification program

It is the CME activity provider's responsibility to submit participant completion information to ACCME for the purpose of granting MOC credit.

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