Adrenal Neoplasms: Lessons from Adrenal Multidisciplinary Tumor Boards

Radiographics. 2023 Jul;43(7):e220191. doi: 10.1148/rg.220191.


The radiologic diagnosis of adrenal disease can be challenging in settings of atypical presentations, mimics of benign and malignant adrenal masses, and rare adrenal anomalies. Misdiagnosis may lead to suboptimal management and adverse outcomes. Adrenal adenoma is the most common benign adrenal tumor that arises from the cortex, whereas adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is a rare malignant tumor of the cortex. Adrenal cyst and myelolipoma are other benign adrenal lesions and are characterized by their fluid and fat content, respectively. Pheochromocytoma is a rare neuroendocrine tumor of the adrenal medulla. Metastases to the adrenal glands are the most common malignant adrenal tumors. While many of these masses have classic imaging appearances, considerable overlap exists between benign and malignant lesions and can pose a diagnostic challenge. Atypical adrenal adenomas include those that are lipid poor; contain macroscopic fat, hemorrhage, and/or iron; are heterogeneous and/or large; and demonstrate growth. Heterogeneous adrenal adenomas may mimic ACC, metastasis, or pheochromocytoma, particularly when they are 4 cm or larger, whereas smaller versions of ACC, metastasis, and pheochromocytoma and those with washout greater than 60% may mimic adenoma. Because of its nonenhanced CT attenuation of less than or equal to 10 HU, a lipid-rich adrenal adenoma may be mimicked by a benign adrenal cyst, or it may be mimicked by a tumor with central cystic and/or necrotic change such as ACC, pheochromocytoma, or metastasis. Rare adrenal tumors such as hemangioma, ganglioneuroma, and oncocytoma also may mimic adrenal adenoma, ACC, metastasis, and pheochromocytoma. The authors describe cases of adrenal neoplasms that they have encountered in clinical practice and presented to adrenal multidisciplinary tumor boards. Key lessons to aid in diagnosis and further guide appropriate management are provided. © RSNA, 2023 Online supplemental material is available for this article. Quiz questions for this article are available through the Online Learning Center.

MeSH terms

  • Adenoma*
  • Adrenal Cortex Neoplasms*
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms* / diagnostic imaging
  • Adrenocortical Carcinoma* / diagnostic imaging
  • Cysts* / pathology
  • Humans
  • Lipids
  • Pheochromocytoma* / diagnostic imaging
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods


  • Lipids