Malignant pheochromocytoma and paraganglioma: management options

Curr Opin Oncol. 2020 Jan;32(1):20-26. doi: 10.1097/CCO.0000000000000589.


Purpose of review: Although the majority of pheochromocytoma and paraganglioma are benign, 15-17% develop metastatic disease, being present at the initial diagnosis in about 11-31% of cases. The natural course of metastasized disease is highly heterogeneous, with an overall 5-year survival rate varying between 40% and 85%. For individual patients, overall survival, progression-free survival, and clinical outcome are difficult to predict. Management of metastasized pheochromocytoma and paraganglioma is challenging. Currently available therapeutic options are surgical debulking, treatment with radiopharmaceuticals (I-MIBG, Y and Lu-DOTATATE), chemotherapy and targeted therapy.

Recent findings: The pathogenesis of pheochromocytoma and paraganglioma (PPGL) is largely driven by genomic alterations in PPGL susceptibility genes related to three different clusters: altered pseudo-hypoxic signaling (cluster-1), altered MAP-kinase signaling (cluster-2) and altered Wnt signaling (cluster-3). Novel targeted therapies (tyrosine kinase inhibitors) and potential future therapeutic options, guided by improved knowledge about the oncogenic cluster 1-3 signaling pathways, will be discussed.

Summary: Treatment of metastasized pheochromocytoma and paraganglioma remains challenging. Profiling of gene expression and methylation can serve as a powerful tool for characterizing disease clusters and for guiding targeted therapy to improve selectivity and efficacy. Current knowledge of signatures involved in molecular signaling, metabolism, and resistance mechanisms of PPGLs suggests that therapeutic regimens can be optimized to each molecular subtype.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / pathology
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy / methods
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Paraganglioma / pathology
  • Paraganglioma / therapy*
  • Pheochromocytoma / pathology
  • Pheochromocytoma / therapy*
  • Radiopharmaceuticals / therapeutic use
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


  • Radiopharmaceuticals