Pituitary adenomas (PAs) are associated with increased morbidity and mortality. The optimal delivery of services and the provision of care for patients with PAs require distribution of the resources proportionate to the impact of these conditions on the community. Currently, the resource allocation for PAs in the health care system is lacking a reliable and an up-to-date epidemiological background that would reflect the recent advances in the diagnostic technologies, leading to the earlier recognition of these tumours. To determine the prevalence, the diagnostic delay and the characteristics of patients with PA in a well-defined geographical area of the UK (Banbury, Oxfordshire). Sixteen general practitioner (GP) surgeries covering the area of Banbury and a total population of 89 334 inhabitants were asked to participate in the study (data confirmed on 31 July 2006). Fourteen surgeries with a total of 81,449 inhabitants (91% of the study population) agreed to take part. All cases of PAs were found following an exhaustive computer database search of agreed terms by the staff of each Practice and data on age, gender, presenting manifestations and their duration, imaging features at diagnosis, history of multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 and family history of PA were collected. A total of 63 patients with PA were identified amongst the study population of 81,149, with a prevalence of 77.6 PA cases/100,000 inhabitants (prolactinomas; PRLoma: 44.4, nonfunctioning PAs: 22.2, acromegaly; ACRO: 8.6, corticotroph adenoma: 1.2 and unknown functional status; UFS: 1.2/100,000 inhabitants). The distribution of each PA subtype was for PRLoma 57%, nonfunctioning PAs 28%, ACRO 11%, corticotroph adenoma 2% and UFS 2%. The median age at diagnosis and the duration of symptoms until diagnosis (in years) were for PRLoma 32.0 and 1.5, nonfunctioning PAs 51.5 and 0.8, ACRO 47 and 4.5 and corticotroph adenoma 57 and 7, respectively. PRLoma was the most frequent PA diagnosed up to the age of 60 years (0-20 years: 75% and 20-60 years: 61% of PAs) and nonfunctioning PA after the age of 60 years (60% of PAs). Nonfunctioning PAs dominated in men (57% of all men with PA) and PRLoma in women (76% of all women with PA). Five patients (7.9%) presented with classical pituitary apoplexy, with a prevalence of 6.2 cases/100,000 inhabitants. Based on a well-defined population in Banbury (Oxfordshire, UK), we have shown that PAs have a fourfold increased prevalence than previously thought; our data confirm that PAs have a higher burden on the Health Care System and optimal resource distribution for both clinical care and research activities aiming to improve the outcome of these patients are needed.