Pheochromocytoma is a tumor that grows on the adrenal glands, which are located on top of the kidneys. It is made up of special adrenal gland cells. The cells secrete hormones such as epinephrine and norepinephrine. These hormones help to regulate the heart rate and blood pressure. The cells may secrete excessive amounts of the hormones. This results in periods of:
90% of these tumors are benign. These tumors occur elsewhere in the body and are called paragangliomas.
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In most cases, pheochromocytoma has no known cause. In others, it is caused by a genetic mutation.
Factors that may increase your chance of pheochromocytoma include:
Genetic diseases associated with pheochromocytoma include:
Many people don't have symptoms. In people who have them, pheochromocytoma may cause:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your doctor will need to test your body fluids for metanephrines. This can be done with:
A clonidine suppression test may be done if these tests do not confirm the diagnosis
Your doctor may need images of your bodily structures to look for the tumor and check if it has spread. These can be done with:
The tumor will be removed whether it is cancerous or not. This procedure uses small incisions and special instruments. Sometimes, the adrenal glands are removed as a part of this process.
Prior to surgery, high blood pressure will need to be brought under control using blood pressure lowering medications.
Chemotherapy may be used if the tumor is cancerous and has spread outside of the adrenal glands.
Radiation therapy may also be used to help destroy the tumors if they have spread.
There are no current guidelines to prevent pheochromocytoma.
American Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute
Canadian Cancer Society
Public Health Agency of Canada
Pheochromocytoma. National Organization of Rare Disorders website. Available at: https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/pheochromocytoma/. Published 2008. Accessed August 24, 2017.
Pheochromocytoma (adrenaline-producing adrenal tumor). The American Association of Endocrine Surgeons website. Available at:
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Accessed August 24, 2017.
Pheochromocytoma and paraganglioma. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114874/Pheochromocytoma-and-paraganglioma . Updated September 6, 2016. Accessed August 24, 2017.
Pheochromocytoma and Paraganglioma Treatment (PDQ®)–Patient Version. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/pheochromocytoma/patient/pheochromocytoma-treatment-pdq. Updated August 18, 2017 Accessed August 24, 2017.
Last reviewed September 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Last Updated: 5/11/2013