What is pheochromocytoma?
Pheochromocytoma is a rare disease in which tumors form in chromaffin cells of the body. Most pheochromocytomas start inside the adrenal gland (the adrenal medulla) where most chromaffin cells are located. There are two adrenal glands, one above each kidney in the back of the upper abdomen. Cells in the adrenal glands make important hormones that help the body work properly. Usually pheochromocytoma affects only one adrenal gland. Pheochromocytoma may also start in other parts of the body, such as the area around the heart or bladder.
Most tumors that start in the chromaffin cells do not spread to other parts of the body and are not cancer. These are called benign tumors. If a tumor is found, the doctor will need to determine whether it is cancer or benign.
Pheochromocytomas often cause the adrenal glands to make too many hormones called catecholamines. The extra catecholamines cause high blood pressure (hypertension), which can cause headaches, sweating, pounding of the heart, pain in the chest, and a feeling of anxiety. High blood pressure that goes on for a long time without treatment can lead to heart disease, stroke, and other major health problems.
If there are symptoms, a doctor may order blood and urine tests to see if there are extra hormones in the body. A patient may also have a special nuclear medicine scan. A CT scan, an x-ray that uses a computer to make a picture of the inside of a part of the body or an MRI scan, which uses magnetic waves to make a picture of the abdomen, may also be done.
Pheochromocytoma is sometimes part of a condition called multiple endocrine neoplasia syndrome (MEN). People with MEN often have other cancers (such as thyroid cancer) and other hormonal problems.
The chance of recovery (prognosis) depends on how far the cancer has spread, and the patient's age and general health.