Skip to content

Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Pheochromocytoma During Pregnancy

    Pheochromocytoma diagnosed during pregnancy is extremely rare (0.007% of all pregnancies).[1,2] However, this situation deserves mention because women with hereditary conditions that increase the risk of developing pheochromocytoma are often also of child-bearing age, and the outcome of undiagnosed pheochromocytoma during pregnancy can be catastrophic.


    Prenatal diagnosis clearly results in decreased mortality for both mother and neonate.[3] Prior to 1970, a prenatal diagnosis of pheochromocytoma was made in only approximately 25% of cases, and the mortality rate for both mother and neonate was around 50%.[4,5] The prenatal diagnosis rate rose to greater than 80% through the 1980s and 1990s, and decreased maternal and neonatal mortality rates were 6% and 15%, respectively.[4,6]

    The diagnosis of pheochromocytoma should be suspected in any pregnant woman who develops hypertension in the first trimester, paroxysmal hypertension, or hypertension that is unusually difficult to treat.[2,7] Normal pregnancy does not affect catecholamine levels.[8] Thus, the usual biochemical tests are valid. Magnetic resonance imaging is the localization method of choice because it does not expose the fetus to ionizing radiation.


    Phenoxybenzamine use is safe in pregnancy, but beta-adrenergic blockers should be initiated only if needed because their use has been associated with intrauterine growth retardation.[9,10] Resection of the tumor can often be performed safely during the second trimester, or tumor resection can be combined with cesarean section when the fetus is ready to be delivered. Case reports have documented successful outcomes in the rare circumstance when surgical resection was delayed until a short time after vaginal delivery.[11] The successful management of pheochromocytoma in pregnancy depends on careful monitoring and the availability of an experienced team of specialists.


    1. Harrington JL, Farley DR, van Heerden JA, et al.: Adrenal tumors and pregnancy. World J Surg 23 (2): 182-6, 1999.
    2. Sarathi V, Lila AR, Bandgar TR, et al.: Pheochromocytoma and pregnancy: a rare but dangerous combination. Endocr Pract 16 (2): 300-9, 2010 Mar-Apr.
    3. Freier DT, Thompson NW: Pheochromocytoma and pregnancy: the epitome of high risk. Surgery 114 (6): 1148-52, 1993.
    4. Mannelli M, Bemporad D: Diagnosis and management of pheochromocytoma during pregnancy. J Endocrinol Invest 25 (6): 567-71, 2002.
    5. Schenker JG, Granat M: Phaeochromocytoma and pregnancy--an updated appraisal. Aust N Z J Obstet Gynaecol 22 (1): 1-10, 1982.
    6. Ahlawat SK, Jain S, Kumari S, et al.: Pheochromocytoma associated with pregnancy: case report and review of the literature. Obstet Gynecol Surv 54 (11): 728-37, 1999.
    7. Keely E: Endocrine causes of hypertension in pregnancy--when to start looking for zebras. Semin Perinatol 22 (6): 471-84, 1998.
    8. Jaffe RB, Harrison TS, Cerny JC: Localization of metastatic pheochromocytoma in pregnancy by caval catheterization. Including urinary catecholamine values in uncomplicated pregnancies. Am J Obstet Gynecol 104 (7): 939-44, 1969.
    9. Butters L, Kennedy S, Rubin PC: Atenolol in essential hypertension during pregnancy. BMJ 301 (6752): 587-9, 1990.
    10. Montan S, Ingemarsson I, Marsál K, et al.: Randomised controlled trial of atenolol and pindolol in human pregnancy: effects on fetal haemodynamics. BMJ 304 (6832): 946-9, 1992.
    11. Junglee N, Harries SE, Davies N, et al.: Pheochromocytoma in Pregnancy: When is Operative Intervention Indicated? J Womens Health (Larchmt) 16 (9): 1362-5, 2007.

      This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

      WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

      Last Updated: February 25, 2014
      This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

      Today on WebMD

      Colorectal cancer cells
      A common one in both men and women.
      Lung cancer xray
      See it in pictures, plus read the facts.
      sauteed cherry tomatoes
      Fight cancer one plate at a time.
      Ovarian cancer illustration
      Do you know the symptoms?
      Jennifer Goodman Linn self-portrait
      what is your cancer risk
      colorectal cancer treatment advances
      breast cancer overview slideshow
      prostate cancer overview
      lung cancer overview slideshow
      ovarian cancer overview slideshow
      Actor Michael Douglas