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Ann Surg. 1999 Jun;229(6):755-64; discussion 764-6.

Clinical experience over 48 years with pheochromocytoma.

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Department of Surgery, Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the Nashville VA Medical Center, Tennessee, USA.



To analyze the presentation, localization, surgical management, pathology, and long-term outcome of a large series of patients with pheochromocytomas.


There are several areas of controversy pertaining to pheochromocytomas. Although many studies report a higher rate of malignancy for extraadrenal pheochromocytomas than for adrenal pheochromocytomas, the number of patients with the former tumor are small and statistical analysis is lacking. There has also been recent debate as to whether microscopic features of the tumor may be predictive of future behavior.


From 1950 to 1998, the authors observed 108 pheochromocytomas in 104 patients. The outcome of these patients has been followed prospectively. The medical records of these patients were reviewed for data on the presentation, localization, surgical management, pathology, and outcome. Patient survival was analyzed using Kaplan-Meier survival distributions.


This study included 66 female patients and 38 male patients. The average age at surgery was 42.3 years. Sporadic cases accounted for 84% of the patients; the other 16% had multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2, von Recklinghausen's disease, von Hippel-Lindau disease, or Carney's syndrome. Of 64 adrenal tumors, 55 were initially considered benign, 6 had microscopic malignant features, and 3 had malignant disease. Mean patient follow-up was 12.6 years. To date, in five additional patients (none with microscopic disease) malignant disease developed (13% overall rate of malignancy). Recurrence occurred as late as 15 years after resection. Of 26 extraadrenal pheochromocytomas, 14 were initially considered benign, 8 had microscopic malignant features, and 4 had malignant disease. Thus, 46% of patients had either malignant disease or tumors with malignant features. Mean patient follow-up was 11.5 years. In one patient with benign disease and in one patient with malignant features, malignant disease developed (23% overall rate of malignancy). The difference in the rate of malignancy was not statistically significant between adrenal and extraadrenal pheochromocytomas. Patients with adrenal and extraadrenal pheochromocytomas also had similar rates of survival (p = NS).


The data suggest that patients with extraadrenal pheochromocytomas have the same risk of malignancy and the same overall survival as patients with adrenal pheochromocytomas. Lifelong follow-up of these patients is mandatory.

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