Nonfunctioning pituitary adenomas present without biochemical or clinical signs of hormone excess and are the second most common type of pituitary adenomas. The 2017 WHO classification scheme of pituitary adenomas differentiates null-cell adenomas (NCAs) and silent gonadotroph adenomas (SGAs). The present study sought to highlight the differences in patient characteristics and clinical outcomes between NCAs and SGAs.
The records of 1166 patients who underwent transsphenoidal surgery for pituitary adenoma between 2012 and 2019 at a single institution were retrospectively reviewed. Patient demographics and clinical outcomes were collected.
Of the overall pituitary adenoma cohort, 12.8% (n = 149) were SGAs and 9.2% (n = 107) NCAs. NCAs were significantly more common in female patients than SGAs (61.7% vs 26.8%, p < 0.001). There were no differences in patient demographics, initial tumor size, or perioperative and short-term clinical outcomes. There was no significant difference in the amount of follow-up between patients with NCAs and those with SGAs (33.8 months vs 29.1 months, p = 0.237). Patients with NCAs had significantly higher recurrence (p = 0.021), adjuvant radiation therapy usage (p = 0.002), and postoperative diabetes insipidus (p = 0.028). NCA pathology was independently associated with tumor recurrence (HR 3.64, 95% CI 1.07–12.30; p = 0.038), as were cavernous sinus invasion (HR 3.97, 95% CI 1.04–15.14; p = 0.043) and anteroposterior dimension of the tumor (HR 2.23, 95% CI 1.09–4.59; p = 0.030).
This study supports the definition of NCAs and SGAs as separate subgroups of nonfunctioning pituitary adenomas, and it highlights significant differences in long-term clinical outcomes, including tumor recurrence and the associated need for adjuvant radiation therapy, as well as postoperative diabetes insipidus. The authors also provide insight into independent risk factors for these outcomes in the adenoma population studied, providing clinicians with additional predictors of patient outcomes. Follow-up studies will hopefully uncover mechanisms of biological aggressiveness in NCAs and associated molecular targets.