Diagnosing Pituitary Tumors
Diagnosing pituitary tumors usually begins with the doctor asking the patient questions and conducting a physical exam. When making a pituitary tumor diagnosis, doctors usually also call for blood tests to measure the level of hormones produced by the pituitary gland. Based on the results, a doctor may order additional tests to definitively make a pituitary tumor diagnosis. These tests may include imaging tests (such as CT scans and MRIs) and an eye exam.
In order to make a pituitary tumor diagnosis, the doctor will usually ask a number of questions about a patient's medical history, including questions about:
- His or her current symptoms
- Whether there is a family history of any medical problems
- Any medicines the patient is taking.
The doctor will also usually perform a physical exam, looking for any signs of a pituitary tumor, and order certain tests.
A doctor will also normally test blood levels for hormones normally produced in the pituitary gland.
Typically, the doctor will also request a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, which is the most sensitive test for detecting pituitary tumors and determining their size. MRI scans may be repeated periodically to assess tumor progression and the effects of pituitary tumor treatment. A computed tomography (CT) scan also gives an image of the pituitary, but it is less sensitive than the MRI.
In addition to assessing the size of the pituitary tumor, doctors also look for damage to surrounding tissues. Depending on the size of the pituitary tumor, the doctor may request an eye exam with a visual fields test.
Sometimes, in order to locate a very small tumor in the pituitary gland, an invasive procedure is required. This procedure is called inferior petrosal sinus sampling. A radiologist inserts special catheters from the groin veins into the vessels that drain the pituitary gland at the top of the neck and then draws blood to measure the amount of hormone that the tumor secretes.