Clinical Significance of Pheochromocytoma Size on the Timing and Extent of Surgery

J Surg Res. 2024 Jun:298:88-93. doi: 10.1016/j.jss.2024.03.004. Epub 2024 Apr 8.


Introduction: Elevated metanephrine and catecholamine levels 3-fold upper limit of normal (ULN) are diagnostic for pheochromocytoma. We sought to determine whether size correlates with biochemical activity or symptoms which could guide timing of surgery.

Methods: Data from consecutive patients undergoing adrenalectomy for pheochromocytoma at our institution over a 10-year period were retrospectively collected. These included maximal lesion diameter on preoperative imaging, plasma/urine metanephrine and/or catecholamine levels, demographic variables and presence of typical paroxysmal symptoms. Receiver operating characteristic curves were used to assess predictive accuracy.

Results: Sixty-three patients were included in the analysis (41 females and 22 males). Median age was 56 (43, 69) years. Due to various referring practices, 31 patients had documented 24-h urine metanephrine, 26 had 24-h urine catecholamine, and 52 had fractionated plasma metanephrine levels available for review. Values were converted to fold change compared to ULN and the maximum of all measured values was used for logistic regression. Median tumor size was 3.40 (2.25, 4.55) cm in greatest dimension. Tumor size at which pheochromocytoma produced > 3-fold ULN was ≥2.3 cm (AUC of 0.84). Biochemical activity increased with doubling tumor size (odds ratio = 8, P = 0.0004) or ≥ 1 cm increase in tumor size (odds ratio = 3.03, P = 0.001). 40 patients had paroxysmal symptoms, but there was no significant correlation between tumor size/biochemical activity and symptoms.

Conclusions: In our study, tumor size directly correlated with the degree of biochemical activity and pheochromocytomas ≥2.3 cm produced levels 3 times ULN. These findings may allow clinicians to adjust timing of operative intervention.

Keywords: Adrenal; Biochemical activity; Metanephrine; Normetanephrine; Pheochromocytoma; Tumor size.

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms* / blood
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms* / surgery
  • Adrenalectomy*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Catecholamines / blood
  • Catecholamines / urine
  • Clinical Relevance
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metanephrine* / blood
  • Metanephrine* / urine
  • Middle Aged
  • Pheochromocytoma* / blood
  • Pheochromocytoma* / pathology
  • Pheochromocytoma* / surgery
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tumor Burden


  • Metanephrine
  • Catecholamines