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Pheochromocytoma(Pheo; Adrenal Gland Tumor; Pheochromocytosis)

Pronounced: Fee-o-crome-o-sigh-toh-ma


Pheochromocytoma is a tumor. It is made up of special adrenal gland cells. The cells secrete hormones such as epinephrine and norepinephrine. These hormones help to regulate the heart rate and blood pressure. The cells may secrete excessive amounts of the hormones. This results in periods of:

Most of these tumors are benign and grow on the adrenal glands, which are located on top of the kidneys. Other tumors occur elsewhere in the body.

Adrenal Glands

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In most cases, pheochromocytoma has no known cause. In others, it is caused by a genetic mutation.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your chance of pheochromocytoma include:

  • A family history
  • Tumors in other glands of the body
  • Hormonal disorders

Genetic diseases associated with pheochromocytoma include:


Most people don't have symptoms. In people who have them, pheochromocytoma may cause:

  • Severe headaches
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fast heart rate
  • Sensation of a panic attack
  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea, vomiting, constipation
  • Pounding heart beat
  • Chest pain
  • Involuntary trembling
  • Pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen
  • Warmth, flushing
  • Increased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Insomnia
  • High blood pressure, which can be constant or sporadic
  • Tingling, burning, or numbness in the legs and feet
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscle weakness
  • Anxiety
  • Unable to cope with high temperature
  • Aggressive or unusual behavior

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Your doctor may need to test your body fluids. This can be done with:

  • Urine testing
  • Blood testing
  • Clonidine suppression test

Your doctor may need images of your bodily structures. These can be done with:

Laparoscopic Adrenalectomy

If the tumor is benign, it is removed. This procedure uses small incisions and special instruments. Sometimes, the adrenal glands are removed as a part of this process.


Prior to surgery, high blood pressure will need to be brought under control using blood pressure lowering medications.

Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy

Chemotherapy may be used if the tumor is cancerous and has spread outside of the adrenal glands.

Radiation therapy may also be used to help destroy the tumors if they have spread.


There are no current guidelines to prevent pheochromocytoma.


American Cancer Society

National Cancer Institute


Canadian Cancer Society

Public Health Agency of Canada


Altiner S, Dodell G, Abed J, Blackford L, Colt E. Pheochromocytoma-induced aggression? Endocr Pract. 2011;17(5):e126-e129..

Lenders JW, Eisenhofer G, Mannelli M, Pacak K. Phaeochromocytoma. Lancet. 2005;366(9486):665-675.

Mittendorf EA, Evans DB, Lee JE, Perrier ND. Pheochromocytoma: advances in genetics, diagnosis, localization and treatment. Hematol Oncol Clin North Am. 2007;21(3):509-525.

Pheochromocytoma and paraganglioma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated July 1, 2014. Accessed September 4, 2014.

Widimsky J Jr. Recent advances in the diagnosis and treatment of pheochromacytoma. Kidney Blood Res. 2006;29(5):321-326.

Last reviewed September 2015 by James Cornell, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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