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Adrenal Pheochromocytoma


Adrenal pheochromocytoma is a tumor that forms on the adrenal glands. These tumors are usually benign (not cancer). Rarely, they are malignant (cancer) and need more treatment. The tumor causes your adrenal glands to make too much adrenal hormone. Adrenal hormones help your body handle stress, and keep your blood sugar and blood pressure levels normal. They also increase your levels of adrenaline. This can cause a sudden increase in your heart rate and blood pressure called a hypertensive crisis, a life-threatening condition that needs immediate treatment.


Informed consent

is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that you may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done. Make sure all your questions are answered.


It is important that you get good nutrition and eat a variety of healthy foods. Eating healthy foods may help you feel better and have more energy. Tell your healthcare provider if you have problems eating, or if you are getting sick to your stomach. Eat different foods from the following groups every day:

  • Bread, cereal, rice and pasta.
  • Vegetables.
  • Fruits.
  • Milk, yogurt, and cheese.
  • Meat, poultry (chicken), fish, dry beans, eggs and nuts.
  • Ask your healthcare provider how many servings of fats, oils and sweets should be included in your diet.

Intake and output

may be measured. Healthcare providers will keep track of the amount of liquid you are getting. They also may need to know how much you are urinating. Ask healthcare providers if they need to measure or collect your urine.


is a small tube placed in your vein that is used to give you medicine or liquids.


  • Nausea medicine may be given to calm your stomach and prevent vomiting.
  • Blood pressure medicine helps lower your blood pressure.
  • Glucose may be given to increase the amount of sugar in your blood.
  • Heart medicine helps strengthen or regulate your heartbeat.
  • Prescription pain medicine may be given.


You may have any of the following:

  • Blood and urine tests: Samples of your blood and urine are sent to a lab for tests. These tests measure the amount of hormones and other chemicals in your body. You may also have
  • Blood sugar checks: Your blood sugar may be checked many times each day. This is usually done before meals and at bedtime. Your finger is pricked to draw blood and the blood is put into a glucose monitor (glucometer). A glucometer is a small hand-held machine used to test the amount of sugar in your blood.
  • Telemetry is continuous monitoring of your heart rhythm. Sticky pads placed on your skin connect to an EKG machine that records your heart rhythm.
  • Genetic screening: Genetic screening may be done to confirm if you or other family members have adrenal pheochromocytoma. This will also give your healthcare provider more information on how to treat your adrenal pheochromocytoma.
  • Imaging tests: You may be given dye through an IV in your vein during one of your tests. The dye helps cancer show up better in the pictures. People who are allergic to shellfish (lobster, crab, or shrimp) may be allergic to this dye. Tell your healthcare provider if you are allergic to any of these.
    • Bone scan: This test can show if cancer has spread to the bones. This test may be done if your healthcare provider suspects you have the malignant form of adrenal pheochromocytoma.
    • Chest x-ray: This is a picture of your lungs and heart. Healthcare providers use it to see how your lungs and heart are doing. Healthcare providers may use the x-ray to look for signs of infection like pneumonia, or to look for collapsed lungs. Chest x-rays may show tumors, broken ribs, or fluid around the heart and lungs.
    • Computerized tomography scan: This is also called a CT scan. A special x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your chest, abdomen, or hip area.
    • Magnetic resonance imaging test: This test is also called an MRI. An MRI uses magnetic waves to take pictures of your chest, abdomen, and adrenal glands. You will need to lie still during a MRI. Never enter the MRI room with an oxygen tank, watch, or any other metal objects. Doing this can cause serious injury. Tell your healthcare provider if you have any metal implants in your body.
    • Positron emission tomography scan: This test is also called a PET scan. A PET scan shows how much blood and oxygen is flowing to an area of the adrenal gland and other parts of the abdomen. It may also show areas where there is cancer.
    • Ultrasound: An ultrasound is a test that looks inside your abdomen. Sound waves are used to show pictures of your adrenal glands, kidneys, or other organs on a TV-like screen.
    • Scintigraphy: This is a test that looks at the flow or movement of blood through the adrenal glands. You will be given a small amount of dye in an IV. Pictures are then taken of your adrenal glands, abdominal organs, and blood vessels.

Treatment options:

Treatment of adrenal pheochromocytoma depends on the signs, symptoms, and type of tumor that you have. You may have any of the following:

  • Surgery: Healthcare providers may do open or laparoscopic surgery to remove a part or all of your adrenal gland. Open surgery is done by making an incision (cut) in your abdomen (stomach). Laparoscopic surgery is done by inserting a scope into small cuts. The scope is a long tube with a magnifying glass, a camera, and a light on the end.
  • Additional treatment: If you have a malignant pheochromocytoma, you may also have the following:
    • Chemotherapy:
      • This medicine, often called chemo, is used to treat cancer. It works by killing tumor cells. Chemotherapy may also be used to shrink lymph nodes that have cancer in them. Once the tumor is smaller, you may need surgery to cut out the rest of the cancer.
      • Many different chemotherapy medicines are used to treat cancer. You may need blood tests often. These blood tests show how your body is doing and how much chemotherapy is needed. Chemotherapy can have many side effects. Healthcare providers will watch you closely and will work with you to decrease side effects. Chemotherapy can cure some cancers. Even if the chemotherapy does not cure your cancer, it may help you feel better or live longer.
    • Radiation: Radiation shrinks tumors and kills cancer cells with x-rays or gamma rays. Radiation may be given after surgery to kill cancer cells that were not removed. It may also be given alone or with chemotherapy to treat cancer.

Vital signs:

Healthcare providers will check your blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, and temperature. They will also ask about your pain. Vital signs give information about your current health.


  • Some medicines may cause nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, low blood pressure, or kidney problems. Surgery may cause you to bleed too much. Your stomach, intestines, blood vessels, or kidneys may get injured or burned during surgery. You could also have trouble breathing or get an infection after surgery. Even after having surgery, there is still a chance that your tumor may come back.
  • Without treatment, your blood pressure may rise to dangerous levels and the symptoms that you have may worsen. This may lead to other serious and life-threatening medical problems, such as heart failure, stroke, or even sudden death. If a malignant adrenal pheochromocytoma is not treated as soon as possible, it can spread to other parts of your body. Once cancer spreads, it becomes more difficult to treat. The earlier an adrenal pheochromocytoma is treated, the better your chances are that serious medical problems may be prevented.


You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Adrenal Pheochromocytoma (Inpatient Care)

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Further information

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