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Pituitary Tumors Treatment (PDQ®)

Nonfunctioning Pituitary Tumors Treatment

Standard Treatment Options for Nonfunctioning Pituitary Tumors

Standard treatment options for nonfunctioning pituitary tumors include the following:

  1. Surgery (preferably with a transsphenoidal approach) followed by close observation with radiation therapy reserved for recurrence.[1,2]
  2. Radiation therapy.[1-3]
  3. Surgery and postoperative radiation therapy.[1,2]

The selection of treatment for patients with nonfunctioning (endocrine-inactive) tumors will depend on tumor size, the progressive course of the disease, and anatomical structures affected by the tumor extension. The majority of patients present with suprasellar extension and visual field deficits. In addition, many have hormone deficits prior to treatment. The initial treatment of patients with gonadotroph adenomas is usually by transsphenoidal surgery, particularly if the adenoma presents with neurological symptoms, because the effect of radiation therapy occurs too slowly, and no reliable medical therapy exists.[4]

Surgical management is typically considered the first choice of treatment for patients with endocrine inactive pituitary adenomas because of its effectiveness in ameliorating symptoms of chiasmal compression and headache.[1] Radical removal of the tumor, however, is difficult to obtain because of the frequent invasiveness into the cavernous sinus. Seventy percent to 80% of patients experience normalization or improvement of visual field defects, and almost 100% of patients with headache as a presenting symptom experience relief. Regrowth of the tumor after radiologically confirmed gross total removal appears to be uncommon. In a series of 32 patients, only 2 (6.2%) with gross total tumor removal and no postoperative radiation therapy showed radiological recurrence of the tumor at a mean follow-up of 5.5 years.[5]

Radiation therapy has been administered routinely in the postoperative period and after clear radiological evidence of residual or recurrent tumor has been demonstrated.[1-3] Drug therapy appears to be of limited value.[1-3]

Current Clinical Trials

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with pituitary tumor. The list of clinical trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.

General information about clinical trials is also available from the NCI Web site.


  1. Losa M, Mortini P, Barzaghi R, et al.: Endocrine inactive and gonadotroph adenomas: diagnosis and management. J Neurooncol 54 (2): 167-77, 2001. [PUBMED Abstract]
  2. Yeh PJ, Chen JW: Pituitary tumors: surgical and medical management. Surg Oncol 6 (2): 67-92, 1997. [PUBMED Abstract]
  3. Tsang RW, Brierley JD, Panzarella T, et al.: Radiation therapy for pituitary adenoma: treatment outcome and prognostic factors. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 30 (3): 557-65, 1994. [PUBMED Abstract]
  4. Snyder PJ: Extensive personal experience: gonadotroph adenomas. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 80 (4): 1059-61, 1995. [PUBMED Abstract]
  5. Lillehei KO, Kirschman DL, Kleinschmidt-DeMasters BK, et al.: Reassessment of the role of radiation therapy in the treatment of endocrine-inactive pituitary macroadenomas. Neurosurgery 43 (3): 432-8; discussion 438-9, 1998. [PUBMED Abstract]
  • Updated: July 27, 2012