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  • Pheochromocytoma

    A Pheochromocytoma is a tumor of the medulla of the adrenal glands. In general they originate in the chromaffin cells.

    They are also known as phaeochromocytoma (PCC). Closely related tumors include extra-adrenal paragangliomas.

    Pheochromocytomas occur most frequently in young adults. The exact cause of these tumors is not known, but there are believed to be hereditary links.

    Signs & Symptoms

    Pheochromocytoma symptoms can include symptoms that are similar to those found in many other ailments so a large part of diagnosis means ruling out other ailments. Symptoms include hyperactivity of the sympathetic nervous symptom. Patients may experience lower back pain, an elevated heart rate, high or sporadic blood pressure, anxiety, weight loss, excessive sweating, and paleness of the face, hands, lips, and mouth.

    Pheochromocytomas are diagnosed by measuring catecholamine and metanephrines in the blood. As mentioned, a large part of diagnosis involves ruling out other possible causes for the symptoms. 24-hour urine collection tests are performed, although these can be affected by different foods. Imaging of the head, neck, chest, and abdomen can help pinpoint the exact location of the tumor. In the United States there are approximately 1,000 cases of Pheochromocytomas diagnosed each year.


    The first choice of treatment in most cases is either laparoscopy or laparoscopy surgery. This is a highly specialized surgery that involves many pre and post-operative risks. If at all possible it is preferable for patients to have the surgery at a facility that specializes in this type of surgery. Excessive fluid loss (blood and urine) can result and this can lead to additional complications such as hypotension. Patients need to be observed closely throughout the treatment process.


    Proper diagnosis and first class treatment offer the best chance of recovery from Pheochromocytoma. Pheochromocytoma can be fatal. In some cases it causes severely high blood pressure that is not controlled with traditional blood pressure medications and treatments. The exact origin, type, size, and stage of the tumor are all factors that determine a patient’s prognosis.