Pheochromocytoma: inherited associations, bilaterality, and cortex preservation

Surgery. 2000 Dec;128(6):1007-11;discussion 1011-2. doi: 10.1067/msy.2000.110846.


Background: Hereditary pheochromocytoma (HP) is characterized by early onset, bilateral adrenal involvement, low malignancy rate, and genetic linkage with certain familial syndromes. This retrospective review is intended to show the high yield of surveillance, predictable bilaterality, and the challenge of cortex-sparing adrenalectomy.

Methods: From 1964 to 1999, 32 patients with HP were treated at a single institution and followed for a mean of 7 years. There were 15 cases of multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2A (MEN 2A), 12 cases of von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) disease, 3 cases of von Recklinghausen's disease (VRD), and 2 cases of familial pheochromocytoma. Twenty-four of 32 patients underwent bilateral adrenalectomy (9 metachronous). Subtotal resection with orthotopic cortex preservation was performed in 5 patients, and heterotopic autografting was performed in 14 patients.

Results: Pheochromocytoma was the first manifestation in 50% of patients with VHL disease and in 27% of patients with MEN 2A. Surveillance uncovered medullary thyroid cancer in 5 of 15 patients with MEN 2A and hemangioblastomas, renal cell carcinoma, and islet cell tumors in 7 of 15 patients with VHL disease and VRD. HP was bilateral in 24 of 32 patients (14/15 in patients with MEN 2A, 7/12 in patients with VHL disease, 2/3 in patients with VRD, and 1/2 in patients with familial pheochromocytoma). In 9 cases of metachronous adrenalectomy, the mean interval was 67 months (range, 9-156 months). Three of 5 patients who underwent orthotopic preservation of the adrenal cortex experienced recurrence compared with 0 of 14 patients with heterotopic autotransplantation of cortical tissue.

Conclusions: Pheochromocytoma frequently heralds coexisting silent VHL disease or MEN-2, mandating surveillance for inherited associations. The long interval of metachronous pheochromocytoma argues against prophylactic removal of the contralateral "normal" adrenal gland. Total adrenalectomy and heterotopic autotransplantation of medulla-free cortex may diminish the need for lifelong steroid substitution and eliminates recurrence.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Adrenalectomy
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia Type 2a / complications
  • Pheochromocytoma / complications
  • Pheochromocytoma / surgery*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • von Hippel-Lindau Disease / complications