Adrenal incidentalomas: surgical treatment in 28 patients and update of the literature

Int Urol Nephrol. 2001;32(3):295-302. doi: 10.1023/a:1017587312369.


Introduction: Adrenal masses discovered by imaging techniques for reasons unrelated to adrenal diseases are called adrenal incidentalomas (Al). The aim of this study was to find out the clinical outcome of 28 patients operated for incidentally discovered adrenal mass and to update the literature concerning this topic.

Patients and methods: From September 1976 to December 1999 we operated on 28 patients for adrenal incidentaloma. Adrenal masses were unilateral in 25 cases and bilateral in 5. Average age was 57 years (range 10-73). Hormonal study was performed in all patients. All patients underwent adrenalectomy by the transabdominal subcostal approach.

Results: Histopathology assessed the adrenal masses as primary in 19 patients and secondary in 9. 24-hour urinary vanillylmandelic acid (VMA) excretion was elevated in 2 patients. Adrenal insufficiency was detected in 1 case. Average tumor diameter resulted 5.8 cm (range 2-17). Histopathologic features of primary adrenal masses included pheochromocytoma in 5 cases, cysts in 4, myelolipomas in 3. nodular hyperplasia in 2, tuberculous mass in 1, cortical adenoma in 1, extra-bone marrow hemopoiesis in 1, cortical carcinoma in 1 and neuroendocrine tumor of the adrenal medulla in 1. The 9 adrenal metastasis resulted by renal cell carcinoma in 7 patients, urothelial carcinoma of the upper urinary tract in I and primary renal lymphoma in 1. Average follow-up was 68 months (range 6-246). Patients alive were 18 (64%), deal 10 (36%). Of the 19 patients with primary adrenal tumors 16 (84%) were alive and disease free and 3 (16%) died (I for disease and 2 for reasons unrelated to the primary tumor). Of the 9 patients with adrenal metastasis 2 (22%) were alive (I disease free and I with progression of the disease) and 7 (78%) died for disease. Replacement therapy for adrenocortical hormones was given 5 patients.

Conclusions: Management of Al need CT or MRI and hormonal investigation in order to detect malignancy and subclinical hypersecretory syndromes. Subclinical functional adrenal masses, single adrenal metastasis and primary nonhypersecretory adrenal tumors sized 4 cm are treated by surgery. A close morpho-functional follow-up is indicated for primary adrenal incidentalomas when nonhypersecretory and smaller than 4 cm.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adrenal Gland Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Adrenal Gland Diseases / pathology
  • Adrenal Gland Diseases / surgery*
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / surgery
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Middle Aged
  • Pheochromocytoma / diagnosis
  • Pheochromocytoma / surgery
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Treatment Outcome