Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

Diagnosis and treatment

How is pheochromocytoma diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for pheochromocytoma may include:

  • Blood and urine tests – to measure hormone levels.
  • Computed tomography scan (also called a CT or CAT scan) – a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general X-rays.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radio frequencies and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.
  • Radioisotope scan – uses radioactive substances introduced into the body to create an image of the functioning adrenal gland.

Treatment for pheochromocytoma

Specific treatment for pheochromocytoma will be determined by your physician based on:

  • Your age, overall health and medical history.
  • Extent of the disease.
  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies.
  • Expectations for the course of the disease.
  • Your opinion or preference.

Treatment may include one or more of the following:

  • Surgery – to remove the tumor. The surgeon may remove one or both adrenal glands.
  • External radiation (external beam therapy) – a treatment that precisely sends high levels of radiation directly to the cancer cells. The machine is controlled by the radiation therapist. Since radiation is used to kill cancer cells and to shrink tumors, special shields may be used to protect the tissue surrounding the treatment area. Radiation treatments are painless and usually last a few minutes.
  • Chemotherapy – the use of anti-cancer drugs to treat cancerous cells. In most cases, chemotherapy works by interfering with the cancer cell’s ability to grow or reproduce. Different groups of drugs work in different ways to fight cancer cells. The oncologist will recommend a treatment plan for each individual.