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Eur J Endocrinol. 2009 Oct;161(4):513-27. doi: 10.1530/EJE-09-0234. Epub 2009 May 13.

Recommended evaluation of adrenal incidentalomas is costly, has high false-positive rates and confers a risk of fatal cancer that is similar to the risk of the adrenal lesion becoming malignant; time for a rethink?

Author information

1
Department of Endocrinology, Christchurch Hospital, Private Bag 4710, Christchurch, New Zealand. tom.cawood@cdhb.govt.nz

Abstract

OBJECTIVE:

To assess the performance of current clinical recommendations for the evaluation of an adrenal incidentaloma. DESIGN AND METHODS LITERATURE REVIEW: Electronic databases (Pubmed, Ovid and citation searches from key articles) from 1980 to 2008 were searched. Eligible studies were those deemed most applicable to the clinical scenario of a patient referred to an endocrinologist for assessment of an incidentally detected adrenal mass. Surgical series, histopathological series and oncological series were reviewed and most were excluded.

RESULTS:

The prevalence of functional and malignant lesions presenting as adrenal incidentaloma was similar to that quoted in most reviews, other than a lower incidence of adrenal carcinoma (1.9 vs 4.7%) and metastases (0.7 vs 2.3%). The development of functionality or malignancy during follow-up was rare (<1% becoming functional and 0.2% becoming malignant). During follow-up, false-positive rates of the recommended investigations are typically 50 times greater than true positive rates. The average recommended computed tomography (CT) scan follow-up exposes each patient to 23 mSv of ionising radiation, equating to a 1 in 430 to 2170 chance of causing fatal cancer. This is similar to the chance of developing adrenal malignancy during 3-year follow-up of adrenal incidentaloma.

CONCLUSION:

Current recommendations for evaluation of adrenal incidentaloma are likely to result in significant costs, both financial and emotional, due to high false-positive rates. The dose of radiation involved in currently recommended CT scan follow-up confers a risk of fatal cancer that is similar to the risk of the adrenal becoming malignant. This argues for a review of current guidelines.

PMID:
19439510
DOI:
10.1530/EJE-09-0234
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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