Not all adrenal incidentalomas require biochemical testing to exclude pheochromocytoma: Mayo clinic experience and a metaanalysis

Lucinda M. Gruber, Veljko Strajina, Irina Bancos, M. Hassan Murad, Benzon M. Dy, William F. Young, David R. Farley, Melanie L. Lyden, Geoffrey B. Thompson, Travis J. Mckenzie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Excluding a pheochromocytoma is important when a patient presents with an incidentally discovered adrenal mass. However, biochemical testing for pheochromocytoma can be cumbersome, time consuming, or falsely positive. Our objective was to determine if unenhanced computed tomography (CT) imaging alone can be used to rule out pheochromocytoma. Methods: We performed a retrospective study of all patients with a pathologically confirmed pheochromocytoma and unenhanced CT imaging who were treated at the Mayo Clinic between 1998 and 2016. Additionally, we performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of original studies published after 2005 with patients who had adrenal masses, more than 10 patients with pheochromocytomas, and reported attenuation on unenhanced CT imaging in Hounsfield units (HU). Results: In the Mayo cohort, we identified 186 patients and 199 pheochromocytomas with unenhanced CT imaging. The mean unenhanced CT attenuation was 35±9 HU (range, 15-62), and only 15 tumors had attenuation ≤20 HU. The systematic review identified 26 studies (1,217 tumors), and 23 studies provided a mean unenhanced CT attenuation. The overall mean unenhanced CT attenuation across the studies was 35.6 HU (95% CI, 22.0-49.1 HU). A cutoff of >10 HU had a 100% sensitivity (95% CI, 1.00-1.00) for pheochromocytoma with low heterogeneity between the 21 qualified studies (I2=0%). Sensitivity for pheochromocytoma was 100% and 99% for an unenhanced CT attenuation cutoff of >15 and >20 HU. Conclusions: Biochemical testing may not be required to exclude pheochromocytoma if an incidental adrenal mass has low attenuation (<10 HU) on unenhanced CT images.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)362-371
Number of pages10
JournalGland Surgery
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020


  • Computed tomography (CT)
  • Diagnosis
  • Hounsfield units (HU)
  • Pheochromocytoma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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