Clinical spectrum of pheochromocytoma

J Am Coll Surg. 2009 Dec;209(6):727-32. doi: 10.1016/j.jamcollsurg.2009.09.022.


Background: Pheochromocytomas vary in presentation, tumor size, and in catecholamine production. Whether pheochromocytoma size correlates with hormone levels, clinical presentation, and perioperative complications is not known. The goal of this study was to determine if tumor size and hormone level correlate according to the clinical presentation at diagnosis.

Study design: We retrospectively analyzed all patients who underwent an adrenalectomy with a diagnosis of a pheochromocytoma from February 1996 to October 2008. We grouped patients according to their clinical presentation at diagnosis (routine biochemical screening, incidentaloma, classic symptoms, pheochromocytoma crisis) and obtained preoperative radiographic tumor size and catecholamine hormone levels. ANOVA was used for the group effects and the Kruskal-Wallis rank test was used for pairwise comparison between groups with the Sidak/Bonferroni method for multiplicity adjustment according to age, tumor size, and hormone level. The Pearson correlation coefficient was then calculated to determine if hormone level correlated with tumor size.

Results: Eighty-one of 107 patients had data available for complete analysis. The average age at diagnosis for all patients was 47.1 years, and the average tumor size was 4.9 cm. The average highest hormone ratio among all patients was 27.4. Tumor size and hormone ratio levels differed among all groups (p < or = 0.03). A direct correlation (p = 0.014) was apparent between tumor size and hormone level. Complication rates also differed among the four groups of patients (p < or = 0.02).

Conclusions: Our study showed that tumor size directly correlates with hormone level. Smaller tumors tend to secrete lower levels of catecholamines, but larger tumors have a wider variation in secretory potential. Larger tumors, however, produced the highest hormone ratios.

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / blood
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / pathology
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / surgery
  • Adrenalectomy
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Catecholamines / blood*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pheochromocytoma / blood
  • Pheochromocytoma / diagnosis*
  • Pheochromocytoma / pathology
  • Pheochromocytoma / surgery
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Catecholamines