Limitations of size as a criterion in the evaluation of adrenal tumors

Surgery. 2000 Dec;128(6):973-82;discussion 982-3. doi: 10.1067/msy.2000.110237.


Background: Size has been considered to be the single best predictor of malignancy in adrenal neoplasms that have been identified incidentally. However, small adrenal cortical cancers have been reported from multiple centers.

Methods: We retrospectively evaluated the value of tumor size and other clinical parameters in the prediction of the presence of adrenal malignancy.

Results: The records of 117 patients who underwent evaluation for tumors of the adrenal gland were reviewed. The median tumor size of the adrenal cortical carcinomas (n = 38 carcinomas) was 9.2 cm (range, 1.7-30 cm); 5 cancers (13.5%) were smaller than 5.0 cm. The median overall size of the benign tumors, excluding pheochromocytomas, was 4.0 cm (n = 38 carcinomas); 10 benign tumors (26%) were larger than 5.0 cm. The imaging features of 4 of 5 small adrenal cancers predicted malignancy; the remaining patients had hormonally functioning tumors. The imaging features of 7 of 10 large benign adrenal tumors predicted benign histologic features, including 5 of 5 myelolipomas.

Conclusions: Although size remains a good predictor of the histologic features and clinical behavior of adrenal neoplasms, both small adrenal cortical cancers and large benign tumors occur with measurable frequency. High-quality imaging studies may be helpful in the identification of relatively small adrenal cancers and of characteristic benign lesions that may be selectively followed.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / mortality
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed