Total bilateral adrenalectomy remains the definitive procedure for cure in Cushing's disease. It is complicated by the development of Nelson's syndrome, the treatment of which remains troublesome. We report the long-term follow-up, median 17 yr (range, 8-22 yr), of 13 patients (3 males and 10 females) treated with pituitary surgery for Nelson's syndrome at a median age of 35 yr (range, 21-67 yr). The presence of a pituitary mass lesion necessitated neurosurgery in all. Preoperatively, the median plasma ACTH level was 664 pmol/liter (range, 92-3665 pmol/liter); this fell to 29 pmol/liter (range, <2 to 1124 pmol/liter) postoperatively (P < 0.0005). Cutaneous hyperpigmentation was reduced in all and resolved in 11 patients. The pituitary tumor bulk was clearly reduced in 12 patients. There was no perioperative mortality. No patient developed a visual field defect attributable to surgery. New anterior pituitary hormone deficiency occurred in seven patients, and permanent diabetes insipidus occurred in five patients. At latest follow-up, the median plasma ACTH is 73 pmol/liter (range, <2 to 7759 pmol/liter); six patients have levels of less than 44 pmol/liter and also have a resolution of their pigmentation and no evidence of a recurrence of a pituitary mass lesion. We conclude that pituitary surgery is an efficacious treatment for mass lesions associated with Nelson's syndrome, has long-term benefit with minimal side effects, and must be considered in the management of this distressing complication.