Adrenal incidentalomas

Curr Opin Oncol. 2002 Jan;14(1):58-63. doi: 10.1097/00001622-200201000-00011.


The term adrenal incidentaloma refers to an adrenal mass occasionally and unexpectedly discovered by an abdominal imaging procedure performed for reasons a priori unrelated to adrenal dysfunction. The prevalence of adrenal incidentalomas as discovered by computed tomographic scan examination is estimated to be between 1% and 4%. The vast majority of these lesions are of adrenocortical origin, most often adenomas. Identification of steroid or catecholamine-secreting tumors is important but usually solved with appropriate endocrinologic investigations. A difficult problem, however, is to distinguish between benign and malignant primary or secondary tumors. Size less than 4 cm and an unenhanced computed tomographic attenuation under 10 Hounsfield Units (HU) are findings in favor of a benign adrenocortical adenoma, as is a positive NP 59 scintigraphic examination. The pathogenesis of adrenal tumors is not well understood. However, alterations of the cyclic AMP signalling pathway have recently been observed in benign adrenocortical lesions and molecular defects associated with insulin-like growth factor-II overexpression in malignant adrenocortical tumors.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenoma / diagnosis
  • Adenoma / etiology
  • Adenoma / metabolism
  • Adrenal Cortex Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Adrenal Cortex Neoplasms / etiology
  • Adrenal Cortex Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / etiology
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Humans