Clinical course and imaging characteristics of benign adrenal cysts: a single-center study of 92 patients

Eur J Endocrinol. 2022 Jul 25;187(3):429-437. doi: 10.1530/EJE-22-0285. Print 2022 Sep 1.


Objective: Benign adrenal cysts are rare lesions of the adrenal glands. Limited data are available to guide management. We aimed to describe the presentation and outcomes of patients with benign adrenal cysts.

Design: Retrospective longitudinal cohort study.

Methods: Consecutive patients with histologically or radiologically confirmed adrenal cysts between 1995 and 2021 were identified. Pheochromocytomas and malignancy were excluded.

Results: Benign adrenal cysts were diagnosed in 92 patients (53, 57% women) at a median age of 45 years. Mode of discovery was incidental on imaging in 81 (88%), symptoms of mass effect in 9 (9.8%), and others in 2 (2.2%). Majority (89, 97%) of patients had unilateral cysts (45 right, 44 left) with a median size of 48 mm (range 4-200) at diagnosis. On imaging, most cysts were round/oval (85.4%), homogenous (83.2%) lesions with calcifications (64.0%) and no vascular enhancement (97.7%). During a median follow-up of 65 months (range 7-288), adrenal cysts demonstrated minimal enlargement (median size change 6 mm, median growth rate 2 mm/year). On hormonal evaluation, 10% (5/50 tested) had an abnormal overnight dexamethasone suppression test, and 9.5% (4/42 tested) had an abnormal case detection testing for primary aldosteronism. Patients treated with adrenalectomy (46, 50%) were younger (36.9 years vs 50.8 years, P = 0.0009) and had more rapidly enlarging cysts (median growth rate 5.5 mm/year vs 0.4 mm/year, P = 0.0002).

Conclusion: Benign adrenal cysts are usually incidentally discovered, non-functional, homogenous lesions without vascular enhancement that demonstrate minimal growth. Adrenalectomy should be reserved for patients with heterogeneous lesions, abnormal hormonal evaluation, or those with mass effect symptoms.

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms* / diagnostic imaging
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Adrenalectomy
  • Cysts* / diagnostic imaging
  • Cysts* / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies