Rationalization of genetic testing in patients with apparently sporadic pheochromocytoma/paraganglioma

Horm Metab Res. 2009 Sep;41(9):672-5. doi: 10.1055/s-0029-1202814. Epub 2009 Apr 2.


Hereditary susceptibility to pheochromocytoma (PCC) and paraganglioma (PGL) represents a very complex genetic scenario. It has been reported that the absence of familial antecedents of the disease does not preclude the existence of a mutation affecting any of the five major susceptibility genes. In fact, 11-24% of apparently sporadic cases (without familial or syndromic antecedents) harbor an unexpected germline mutation, but we do not know what is happening in "truly apparently" sporadic patients (i.e., apparently sporadic cases diagnosed with only one tumor). In the present study, we have analyzed 135 apparently sporadic patients developing a single tumor for the five major susceptibility genes: VHL, RET, SDHB, SDHC, and SDHD. Fourteen percent of cases were found to harbor a germline mutation, and only 2.2% of patients were older than 45 years at onset. By taking into account the tumor location and a threshold age at onset of 45 years, we propose a rational scheme for genetic testing. Analyzing VHL and RET genes would be recommended only in young patients developing a single PCC. On the other hand, genetic testing of SDHD should be done in all patients developing an extra-adrenal tumor before the age of 45, and SDHC could be the responsible gene in cases developing a single head and neck tumor, independently of age. Finally, the analysis of SDHB should always be performed because of its association to malignancy and the low penetrance of mutations affecting this gene.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Genetic Testing*
  • Germ-Line Mutation
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Paraganglioma / diagnosis
  • Paraganglioma / genetics*
  • Pheochromocytoma / diagnosis
  • Pheochromocytoma / genetics*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-ret / genetics
  • Succinate Dehydrogenase / genetics
  • Von Hippel-Lindau Tumor Suppressor Protein / genetics
  • Young Adult


  • Succinate Dehydrogenase
  • Von Hippel-Lindau Tumor Suppressor Protein
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-ret
  • RET protein, human
  • VHL protein, human