Adrenocortical incidentalomas and bone: from molecular insights to clinical perspectives

Endocrine. 2018 Dec;62(3):506-516. doi: 10.1007/s12020-018-1696-z. Epub 2018 Aug 2.


Adrenal incidentalomas constitute a common clinical problem with an overall prevalence of around 2-3%, but are more common with advancing age being present in 10% of those aged 70 years. The majority of these lesions are benign adrenocortical adenomas (80%), characterized in 10-40% of the cases by autonomous cortisol hypersecretion, and in 1-10% by aldosterone hypersecretion. Several observational studies have shown that autonomous cortisol and aldosterone hypersecretion are more prevalent than expected in patients with osteopenia and osteoporosis: these patients have accelerated bone loss and an increased incidence of vertebral fractures. In contrast to glucocorticoid action, the effects of aldosterone on bone are less well understood. Recent data, demonstrating a concomitant co-secretion of glucocorticoid metabolites in patients with primary aldosteronism, could explain some of the metabolic abnormalities seen in patients with aldosterone hypersecretion. In clinical practice, patients with unexplained osteoporosis, particularly when associated with other features such as impaired glucose tolerance or hypertension, should be investigated for the possible presence of autonomous cortisol or aldosterone secretion due to an adrenal adenoma. Randomized intervention studies are needed, however, to investigate the optimum interventions for osteoporosis and other co-morbidities in these patients.

Keywords: Adrenal; Autonomous cortisol hypersecretion; Bone; Incidentaloma; Osteoporosis; Primary aldosteronism.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / pathology
  • Adrenocortical Adenoma / metabolism*
  • Adrenocortical Adenoma / pathology
  • Bone and Bones / metabolism*
  • Bone and Bones / pathology
  • Humans

Supplementary concepts

  • Adrenal incidentaloma