Pituitary incidentalomas (PI) are frequently found on brain imaging. Despite their high prevalence, little is known about their long-term natural history and there are limited guidelines on how to monitor them.
We conducted a retrospective study to compare epidemiological characteristics at presentation and the natural history of PI in population-based vs referral-based registries from two tertiary-care referral centers in Canada.
A total of 328 patients with PI were included, of whom 73% had pituitary adenomas (PA) and 27% had non-pituitary sellar masses. The commonest indications for imaging were headache (28%), dizziness (12%) and stroke/transient ischemic attack (TIA) (9%). There was a slight female preponderance (52%) with a median age of 55 years at diagnosis; 71% presented as macroadenomas (>10mm). Of PA, 25% were functioning tumors and at presentation 36% of patients had evidence of secondary hormonal deficiency (SHD). Of the total cohort, 68% were treated medically or conservatively whereas 32% required surgery. Most tumors (87% in non-surgery and 68% in post-surgery group) remained stable during follow-up. Similarly, 84% of patients in the non-surgery and 73% in the surgery group did not develop additional SHD during follow-up. The diagnosis of non-functioning adenoma was a risk factor for tumor enlargement and a change in SHD status was associated with a change in tumor size.
Our data suggest that most PI seen in tertiary-care referral centers present as macroadenomas and may frequently be functional, often requiring medical or surgical intervention.