[Some] Tumors of the adrenal glands are known as pheochromocytomas, which are usually benign and only malignant in a small number of cases. The adrenal glands secrete hormones for various functions in our body ranging from our ‘fight or flight’ reactions to water regulation.
The symptoms of pheochromocytoma usually involve headaches, sweating and heart palpitations. Patients may also have high blood pressure. These symptoms will not necessarily identify the condition specifically, and all conditions that may cause the over activity of the sympathetic nervous system will need to be ruled out. Things that govern the ‘fight or flight’ response include drugs, panic attacks or spinal cord injury.
Pheochromocytomas are associated with some genetic disorders. A condition known as multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN) is known to increase the risk of tumors in various areas. Genetic testing can be used to identify families at risk. Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome is also association with pheochromocytomas, though this is a rare condition. Pheochromocytomas may also occur with no family history.
Diagnosis usually relies upon detection of hormones in the urine, which will be followed by imaging studies showing whether there is a mass in the gland.
Treatment of Pheochromocytomas
Surgery is used to treat the condition, and in the mean time the blood pressure is controlled. This must be monitored also during surgery. If the pheochromocytomas are malignant then chemotherapy may also be required after surgery has been performed.
There is a possibility of pheochromocytomas recurring after treatment, either benign or malignant. This means that follow up after surgery is extremely important, though the recurrence rate is only around 10% of all cases.