Only a healthcare provider can diagnose pituitary tumors. You will need a number of exams and tests to know if you have a tumor.
First, your healthcare provider will ask you questions. They will ask about your health history, family history, symptoms and risk factors.
Next, you will likely have a physical exam and blood, urine and vision tests. These results of these tests will help your provider tell if you need further testing.
Blood and Urine Tests
Your healthcare provider will order certain tests based on the results of your exam. The tests measure the levels of different hormones in your urine or blood. Follow your healthcare provider’s directions for the tests. Some blood tests must be done at set times of the day. You may need to collect urine in a specific container over a 24-hour period.
Venous Blood Sampling
Your provider may order this test if they think you have a tumor that makes ACTH. Sometimes, these tumors are too small to show up on an MRI. For this test, your healthcare provider will insert tiny tubes into veins inside your thighs. They will guide the tubes up to the veins that drain blood from your pituitary gland. There, they will take blood samples to check the hormone levels. Next, they will add a specific hormone into your blood. Finally, they will take more blood samples. If your ACTH level increases, you likely have a tumor.
This test shows more details than any other type of imaging test. It is considered the best test to find pituitary tumors. If the tumor needs to be removed, MRIs can help surgeons decide on the best type of surgery to use.
MRIs use radio waves and magnets to take pictures of the inside of your body. Before an MRI, your healthcare provider may put dye into your blood. Or, they may have you take the dye in pill form. The dye makes pictures clearer, and allows your provider to see small changes.
For the MRI, you will lie still on a table as it passes into a long, narrow scanner. The length of the test varies but it can take an hour or longer. A MRI does not hurt, but it can be noisy.
You may have a CT scan if you cannot have an MRI. During a CT scan, a camera moves around you and takes many X-rays . After the test, a computer combines these pictures to show of the inside of your body.
Before the CT scan, your healthcare provider may put contrast dye put into one of your veins. The dye lets them see your body more clearly. You may have a warm feeling from your chest to your groin when they first inject the dye. The dye passes through your body and comes out through bowel movements. Tell your healthcare provider about all allergies and if you have had a reaction to contrast dye in the past. They can give you medication before the CT scan to reduce the chance of a reaction. For the test, you lie still on a table that slides into a scanner. Your healthcare provider may ask you to hold your breath a few times during the procedure. A CT scan is not painful.
Pituitary Tissue Biopsy
During a biopsy, your healthcare provider surgically removes a sample of tissue or tumor from your body. Then, they look at it under a microscope. A biopsy can show what type of pituitary tumor you have, including if it is cancer or not.
Biopsies are not typically done to diagnose pituitary tumors. Healthcare providers diagnose most tumors with blood tests and MRIs.