Pheochromocytoma is a tumor. 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:
Most of these tumors are benign and grow on the adrenal glands, which are located on top of the kidneys. Other tumors occur elsewhere in the body.
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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:
Most people don't have symptoms. In people who have them, pheochromocytoma may cause:
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your doctor may need to test your body fluids. This can be done with:
Your doctor may need images of your body structures. This can be done with:
If the tumor is benign, it is removed. 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
Altiner S, Dodell G, et al. Pheochromocytoma-Induced Aggression? Endocr Pract. 2011;29:1-10.
Lenders JW, Eisenhofer G, et al. Phaeochromocytoma. Lancet. 2005;366(9486):665-675.
Mittendorf EA, Evans DB, et al. Pheochromocytoma: advances in genetics, diagnosis, localization and treatment. Hematol Oncol Clin North Am. 2007;21:509-525.
Pheochromocytoma and paraganglioma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
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Updated July 1, 2014. Accessed September 4, 2014.
Widimsky J Jr. Recent advances in the diagnosis and treatment of pheochromacytoma. Kidney Blood Res. 2006;29:321-326.
Last reviewed August 2014 by Brian Randall, MD
Last Updated: 5/11/2013