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Pituitary Tumor Diagnosis

lab technician drawing blood from a person's arm
Blood testing may be done to measure the levels of certain hormones.

Any person who is suspected of having a pituitary tumor should have a complete medical evaluation. This includes a complete personal and family medical history. The doctor will find out if anyone in the person's family has had a pituitary tumor, kidney stones, stomach ulcers, low blood sugar, or adrenal gland tumors. The doctor will also do a physical exam including visual testing. These exams will help the doctor decide whether or not to do further testing.

If a pituitary tumor is suspected, a person can have any number of tests. These include:

  • Blood or urine testing. The kind of testing a person has will depend on what the doctor finds in the initial physical exam. The doctor will measure a set of hormone levels in the urine and/or in the blood. Different kinds of blood tests may be done depending on what kind of pituitary tumor a person is suspected to have. Blood tests may be done at specific times of the day, and urine may need to be collected in a large container over a 24-hour period. 

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This test uses magnets and radio waves to take pictures of the inside of the body. MRIs can show more detail than other X-rays. The MRI is the standard imaging test used to find pituitary tumors of all types. MRIs can also help the surgeons to select the type of surgery necessary to remove the tumor.

  • Venous blood sampling. In this test, small tubes are guided into the veins that drain blood on each side of the pituitary gland to try to diagnose a corticotropin secreting tumor if it is suspected but does not show up on an MRI. Blood samples are taken from both sides of the pituitary gland and compared to see if certain hormone levels are higher on one side than on another. The side with higher levels contains the tumor.

  • Pituitary tissue biopsy. Taking a biopsy, or tissue sample, from the pituitary gland will help a doctor determine exactly what kind of pituitary tumor a person has and whether or not it is cancerous. With high-resolution MRI images and detailed hormonal tests, however, often there is no need for a separate biopsy before surgery.

  • Computed tomography (CT scan). A CT scanner takes many X-rays as it rotates around you. A computer combines these images to create detailed pictures that your doctor can view. 


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