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Aust N Z J Med. 2000 Dec;30(6):648-52.

Phaeochromocytomas discovered during coronial autopsies in Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Medicine, University of Auckland, New Zealand.



The diagnosis of phaeochromocytoma can be difficult and previous autopsy studies have found that many of these tumours are not recognised during life.


To determine the incidence of phaeochromocytoma during coronial autopsies and the characteristics of the individuals concerned.


Review of coronial autopsy records from Auckland (1981-97), Melbourne (1991-97) and Sydney (1991-97).


Twenty-two patients were found giving an incidence of 0.05% (one tumour per 2031 autopsies) with similar figures in each centre. Thirteen of the patients were men, 12 were overweight (body mass index >25 kg/m2) and three of the seven Auckland patients were Maori. Fourteen of the tumours were left-sided, one was extra-adrenal and none had metastasised. The one patient with bilateral tumours had multiple endocrine neoplasia syndrome type 2 (MEN-2) which had not been recognised during life. The heart weight was increased in 95% of the patients. The tumour may have contributed to the patient's death in up to 50% of the cases, although the true significance of these lesions as a cause of death remains unclear. Three patients died soon after general anaesthetics had been given for unrelated reasons.


Even though phaeochromocytomas are uncommon, we fail to diagnose a significant number of these tumours during life. Methods are needed to increase the detection of phaeochromocytoma and to distinguish functional and non-functional tumours.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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