Extra-adrenal pheochromocytoma

J Urol. 1992 Jan;147(1):1-10. doi: 10.1016/s0022-5347(17)37119-7.


Extra-adrenal pheochromocytomas may arise in any portion of the paraganglion system, although they most commonly occur below the diaphragm. The most common site of occurrence of extra-adrenal pheochromocytoma is the superior para-aortic region between the diaphragm and lower renal poles. Although the traditional teaching has been that 10% of all pheochromocytomas are at extra-adrenal sites, this may be an underestimation. Extra-adrenal pheochromocytomas probably represent at least 15% of adult and 30% of childhood pheochromocytomas. They may be malignant in up to 40% of the cases, although conflicting data add to the uncertainty of this point. Patients with tumors arising at extra-adrenal sites commonly present with headache, palpitations, sweating and hypertension. The diagnosis is most often confirmed by demonstrating increased catecholamine production, usually by measurement of urinary catecholamines and/or their metabolites. CT scanning is presently the imaging procedure of choice for localization. The roles of MRI and 131I-MIBG scintigraphy in the localization process are still being determined. Thorough preoperative pharmacological preparation, attentive intraoperative monitoring and aggressive surgical therapy all have an important role in achieving the safest and most successful outcome. Complete surgical excision is the treatment of choice for primary extra-adrenal pheochromocytoma as well as recurrent or metastatic disease. When residual tumor cannot be resected, medical therapy for symptomatic relief is preferred, since radiotherapy and chemotherapy have limited effectiveness. Extra-adrenal pheochromocytomas are more likely to recur and to metastasize than their adrenal counterparts, making lifelong followup with annual determinations of catecholamine production essential.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local
  • Pheochromocytoma* / diagnosis
  • Pheochromocytoma* / pathology
  • Pheochromocytoma* / secondary
  • Pheochromocytoma* / surgery
  • Prognosis
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / pathology