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AJR Am J Roentgenol. 2013 Oct;201(4):834-9. doi: 10.2214/AJR.12.9753.

MDCT of adrenal masses: Can dual-phase enhancement patterns be used to differentiate adenoma and pheochromocytoma?

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1 All authors: Russell H. Morgan Department of Radiology and Radiological Sciences, Johns Hopkins Outpatient Center, 601 N Caroline St, Rm 3140D, Baltimore, MD 21287.



The purpose of this study was to compare enhancement of adrenal adenomas and pheochromocytomas during dual-phase (arterial and venous phases) CT performed with currently used MDCT protocols with the goal of defining enhancement patterns predictive of pathologic findings.


Pathologically proven pheochromocytomas were retrospectively compared with adrenal adenomas. Inclusion criteria for adenomas, collected by searching the radiology database, were confirmatory adrenal CT (unenhanced with or without washout) and absence of clinical indicators of pheochromocytoma. A fellowship-trained attending radiologist blinded to the pathologic diagnosis reviewed existing images from dual-phase IV contrast-enhanced CT examinations to measure enhancement of adrenal lesions and characterize the appearance (homogeneous versus heterogeneous). Student t test analysis was performed to compare arterial and venous phase enhancement levels.


The findings in 39 patients with 41 adenomas were compared with those in 10 patients with 12 pheochromocytomas. Mean arterial and venous enhancement of adenomas at 37 HU (-6 to 85 HU) and 60 HU (16-133 HU) was significantly lower than that of pheochromocytomas at 104 HU (42-190 HU) and 119 HU (61-195 HU) (p < 0.001). No adenoma was more than 85-HU enhancing in the arterial phase, and 58% of pheochromocytomas were more than 110-HU enhancing. Most adenomas (85%) were more enhancing in the venous phase. No adenoma was more enhancing in the arterial phase, but 25% (3/12) of pheochromocytomas were. Most (58%) pheochromocytomas were heterogeneous in appearance, compared with 22% of adenomas.


For indeterminate adrenal masses identified at dual-phase IV contrast-enhanced CT, higher enhancement during the arterial phase, arterial phase enhancement levels greater than 110 HU, and lesion heterogeneity should prompt consideration of pheochromocytoma.

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