Why are pituitary tumors so hard to diagnose?

It depends. Fortunately, in the era of modern medicine, diagnosis is typically not all that difficult. Mri is generally quite reliable in diagnosing pituitary tumors. Otherwise, eye exam (visual field testing) and blood hormone tests are important in diagnosing pituitary tumors. Prior to the age of accurate intracranial imaging, these tumors were indeed more difficult to diagnose.
Cellular level. The pituitary is a complex organ with many complex cells and interconnections. Normal changes in cell growth and hormone section is happening all the time. When these normal cell changes get out of control it may be very difficult to tell until they are very abnormal. No one test can be the answer.
They are very small. These tumors secrete very powerful hormones that have far reaching affects on the body but many times the tumors are so small and also protected in the skull that they are not seen on standard imaging. Special imaging studies are needed many times to detect the tumors. Also, many of these hormones can be measured in the blood and if elevated, the search for the tumor is intensified.

Related Questions

How do you diagnose pituitary tumors?

MRI and labs. Blood tests can confirm if the tumor is actively producing extra hormones but MRI of the pituitary is the main study to visualize the actual tumor. Read more...
Most accurate. Is MRI brain, with and without contrast hormone tests determine whether growth is secreting too much or too little pituitary hormones. Read more...

What is a pituitary tumor?

A growth. A pituitary tumor is simply a growth on the pituitary. It's not cancerous but it could cause problems by increasing or decreasing pituitary hormone secretion. It can also cause visual problems if it's big enough. Read more...
Uncontrolled cells. The pituitary gland is full of very complex cells that are very reactive to factors from the brain and produce complex hormones that control many functions of the body. At times, these cells become uncontrolled and start to produce hormones in excess and grow too big. These cells form tumors that may cause severe problems with body regulation. Surgery is usually necessary. Read more...

What medicine helps a pituitary tumor?

Many. There are many drugs available to treat pituitary tumor but they are usually used after pituitary surgery. The only two drugs commonly used to treat pituitary tumor before surgery are: bromocriptine and carbegoline. These are utilized to treat prolactin-producing pituitary tumor. Read more...
Depends. It matters what the pituitary tumor produces. Often, bromocritpine is used for prolactinomas. Discuss with a good endocrinologist. Read more...

What are the symptoms of a pituitary tumor?

Subtle. Cuts in the visual field that you won't notice until someone checks you with one eye closed. A woman's periods stopping or becoming irregular. Milk production perhaps. Lost libido. Headaches -- sometimes sudden and catastrophic. Needing bigger gloves. Just feeling run down and being called "neurotic". Weight gain / diabetes / hypertension / moods that get blamed on "lifestyle." bad tumor to miss. Read more...
LOW TESTOSTERONE. In men, pituitary tumors often cause a decreased testosterone level. The anterior portion of the pituitary gland produces luteinizing hormone (lh), which stimulates the testes to produce testosterone. Thus, symptoms of low testosterone may be the only sign of a pituitary tumor. In adulthood, low testosterone may lead to decreased sexual function and desire, infertility, and erectile dysfunction. Read more...

How big is pituitary tumor that is classified as a macroadenoma?

Over 1 cm. A macroadenoma is a tumor that is bigger than 1 CM (10mm). Read more...
1cm. Greater than or equal to 1 cm. This is an arbitrary number to distinguish it from microadenoma. Read more...

How are pituitary tumors tested?

Labs. Blood testings can determine if the tumor is increasing or decreasing hormones production/secretion. Read more...
Imaging and hormones. The pituitary controls most of the hormones in the body. When the pituitary is either too active or not working well, the hormone levels will show a major problem. Then specific imaging can be done to look carefully at the pituitary to look for a region of tumor. These tests should be done under the supervision of an expert in hormones - an endocrinologist. Read more...

How do we treat pituitary tumors?

It depends. Often a first step is tumor removal (and obtaining a biopsy specimen), now frequently performed as an endoscopic surgery through the sinuses, usually done by both an ENT surgeon and a neurosurgeon. Tumors which make pituitary hormones may shrink or stabilize with oral medication. Large or aggressive tumors may require targeted radiation therapy, e.g. Cyber knife, after (or instead of) surgery. Read more...
Medicine or surgery. If the tumor is secreting a hormone, it could be treated with medication and or surgery. If it is greater than 1.0 cm and growing, it is most often treated with surgery. Once in a while, radiation is used to treat such tumors. Read more...