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Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2012 Feb;26(1):47-68. doi: 10.1016/j.beem.2011.07.003.

Pituitary incidentaloma.

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Department of Medicine, Endocrine section, Atlanta Medical Center, Atlanta GA, USA.


Pituitary incidentalomas (PIs) are commonly encountered in clinical practice. While most are microincidentalomas (<1 cm) and not functional, in some cases their identification may lead to discovery of unrecognized abnormalities such as pituitary hormonal deficiencies, excess hormone secretion or visual field defects. Although the majority are pituitary adenomas, the potential list of differential diagnosis is extensive. A limited biochemical work up for asymptomatic patients with microincidentalomas, to include measurement of prolactin and IGF-1, is reasonable, with further studies to be tailored based on the clinical picture. All patients with macroincidentalomas (≥1 cm) should be evaluated for hypopituitarism and undergo visual field testing if the sellar mass abuts or compresses the optic chiasm. Most PIs can be followed, closely without surgery over time, but some may require surgical removal, especially if they are found to be macroincidentalomas at presentation, encroaching on or abutting the optic chiasm, or are found to be functional, excluding prolactinomas. Recovery of pituitary function may be seen in some patients with mass effect following resection of a sellar mass. The association of headache and pituitary incidentalomas remains a diagnostic challenge. There are no randomized controlled studies to guide the follow up approach when surgery is not indicated; most of the follow up algorithms in the literature are based on personal experience. Most retrospective series on natural history indicate that microincidentalomas tend not to grow; without a need for long-term follow up unless the patient becomes symptomatic. Macroincidentalomas, on the other hand, have a propensity to grow and need a more aggressive follow up approach to minimize morbidity.

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