Diagnosis and Management of Pituitary Adenomas: A Review

JAMA. 2023 Apr 25;329(16):1386-1398. doi: 10.1001/jama.2023.5444.


Importance: Pituitary adenomas are neoplasms of the pituitary adenohypophyseal cell lineage and include functioning tumors, characterized by the secretion of pituitary hormones, and nonfunctioning tumors. Clinically evident pituitary adenomas occur in approximately 1 in 1100 persons.

Observations: Pituitary adenomas are classified as either macroadenomas (≥10 mm) (48% of tumors) or microadenomas (<10 mm). Macroadenomas may cause mass effect, such as visual field defects, headache, and/or hypopituitarism, which occur in about 18% to 78%, 17% to 75%, and 34% to 89% of patients, respectively. Thirty percent of pituitary adenomas are nonfunctioning adenomas, which do not produce hormones. Functioning tumors are those that produce an excess of normally produced hormones and include prolactinomas, somatotropinomas, corticotropinomas, and thyrotropinomas, which produce prolactin, growth hormone, corticotropin, and thyrotropin, respectively. Approximately 53% of pituitary adenomas are prolactinomas, which can cause hypogonadism, infertility, and/or galactorrhea. Twelve percent are somatotropinomas, which cause acromegaly in adults and gigantism in children, and 4% are corticotropinomas, which secrete corticotropin autonomously, resulting in hypercortisolemia and Cushing disease. All patients with pituitary tumors require endocrine evaluation for hormone hypersecretion. Patients with macroadenomas additionally require evaluation for hypopituitarism, and patients with tumors compressing the optic chiasm should be referred to an ophthalmologist for formal visual field testing. For those requiring treatment, first-line therapy is usually transsphenoidal pituitary surgery, except for prolactinomas, for which medical therapy, either bromocriptine or cabergoline, is usually first line.

Conclusions and relevance: Clinically manifest pituitary adenomas affect approximately 1 in 1100 people and can be complicated by syndromes of hormone excess as well as visual field defects and hypopituitarism from mass effect in larger tumors. First-line therapy for prolactinomas consists of bromocriptine or cabergoline, and transsphenoidal pituitary surgery is first-line therapy for other pituitary adenomas requiring treatment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenoma* / complications
  • Adenoma* / diagnosis
  • Adenoma* / metabolism
  • Adenoma* / therapy
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / biosynthesis
  • Adult
  • Bromocriptine / therapeutic use
  • Cabergoline / therapeutic use
  • Child
  • Female
  • Human Growth Hormone / biosynthesis
  • Humans
  • Hypopituitarism / diagnosis
  • Hypopituitarism / etiology
  • Hypopituitarism / metabolism
  • Hypopituitarism / therapy
  • Pituitary Neoplasms* / complications
  • Pituitary Neoplasms* / diagnosis
  • Pituitary Neoplasms* / metabolism
  • Pituitary Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Pregnancy
  • Prolactinoma / diagnosis
  • Prolactinoma / etiology
  • Prolactinoma / metabolism
  • Prolactinoma / therapy


  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
  • Bromocriptine
  • Cabergoline
  • Human Growth Hormone