Over-diagnosis of potential malignant behavior in MEN 2A-associated pheochromocytomas using the PASS and GAPP algorithms

Langenbecks Arch Surg. 2018 Sep;403(6):785-790. doi: 10.1007/s00423-018-1679-9. Epub 2018 May 19.


Purpose: Pheochromocytomas (PCCs) exhibit malignant potential, but current histological modalities for the proper detection of aggressive behavior are debated. The two most widespread algorithms are the "Pheochromocytoma of the Adrenal Gland Scaled Score" (PASS) and the "Grading System for Adrenal Pheochromocytoma and Paraganglioma" (GAPP), both which mostly rely on histological parameters to identify PCC patients at risk of disseminated disease. Since the algorithms are derived from studies using predominantly sporadic PCCs, little is known whether the PASS or GAPP scores can predict malignant potential in hereditary cases.

Methods: PASS and GAPP were applied on 41 PCCs; 13 PCCs were diagnosed in ten multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2A (MEN 2A) patients carrying established germline RET proto-oncogene mutations, as well as 28 assumed sporadic PCCs.

Results: Six out of thirteen MEN 2A tumors (46%) exhibited PASS scores ≥ 4, indicative of a potential for aggressive behavior. In addition, 7/13 tumors (54%) exhibited GAPP scores ≥ 3, indicative of a "moderately differentiated type" with risk of future recurrence. All MEN 2A PCCs with an elevated PASS score also displayed an elevated GAPP score. In contrast, 4/28 (14%) sporadic PCCs demonstrated PASS scores ≥ 4, and 9/28 (32%) displayed GAPP scores ≥ 3. Follow-up found all cases in the study are free of metastatic or recurrent disease.

Conclusions: We conclude that the PASS and GAPP scoring systems might be suboptimal for determining true malignant potential in PCCs with constitutional RET mutations and advocate restrictive use of these scores in MEN 2A cases until the results are reproduced in larger numbers.

Keywords: GAPP; MEN 2A; Malignancy; PASS; Pheochromocytoma.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Adult
  • Algorithms
  • Biopsy, Needle
  • Cohort Studies
  • Databases, Factual
  • False Positive Reactions
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia Type 2a / genetics*
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness / pathology
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Pheochromocytoma / diagnosis
  • Pheochromocytoma / genetics*
  • Pheochromocytoma / pathology*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Young Adult