John Han-Chih Chang, MD and Kenneth Blank, MD
Last Modified: November 1, 2001

I am a 28 year old female currently being tested for an adrenal tumor with symptoms of hypertension and tachycardia. I am wondering whether or not this could be a pheochromocytoma.  

John Han-Chih Chang, MD Editorial Assistant for Oncolink responds:

Thank you for your question.

Pheochromocytomas are very rare tumors of adrenal medulla cells (located in the middle of the adrenal glands) and elsewhere. They often secrete catecholemines that cause the characteristic hypertension. Despite this, there is a very small incidence of this disease in hypertensive individuals (0.1%). Only a portion of pheochromocytomas are malignant.

The very successful mainstay treatment of early disease is surgery. Radiation therapy is also a viable definitive approach. Chemotherapy has been of less proven benefit.

The symptoms of hypertension and tachycardia are not unique to a person with pheochromocytoma. Nearly all patients with increased catecholemines (one of which is adrenaline) production secondary to pheochromocytoma will likely have hypertension (high blood pressure) and tachycardia (increased heart rate). Those are natural body reactions to increased levels of catecholemines.

Here are two review articles published in the past 2-3 years in that may be available to you at a major university library:

  1. Bravo EL. Pheochromocytoma. Current Therapy in Endocrinology & Metabolism. 6:195-7, 1997.
  2. Francis IR. Korobkin M. Pheochromocytoma. Radiologic Clinics of North America. 34(6):1101-12, 1996 Nov.

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