Most pheochromocytoma tumors grow on the adrenal glands, which are situated at the top of the kidneys. Pheochromocytoma is a tumor made up of adrenal gland cells that secretes excessive amounts of epinephrine and norepinephrine, which regulate heart rate and blood pressure.
Deficiencies of iron or copper and diets high in manganese have been associated with pheochromocytoma although the cause of the tumors is not yet known. Risk factors associated with the condition include family history of pheochromocytoma, tumors in other glands of the body or other hormonal disorders.
Symptoms can be present many times a day, or as infrequently as once every few months. They include:
- Severe headaches
- Excessive sweating
- Involuntary trembling
- Fast heart rate or pounding heart bea
- Tingling, burning, numbness in the legs and feet
- Chest pain and pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen
Tests can include:
- 24-hour urine testing to measure amounts of certain hormones produced by the adrenal glands
- Blood testing
- CAT scan, ultrasound, MRI and other imaging tests
If surgery is necessary to remove a tumor, patients are placed on medications to control their blood pressure for a treatment period of four to six weeks prior to surgery. The majority of pheochromocytoma tumors can be removed in a minimally-invasive surgical procedure called laparoscopic adrenalectomy. Most patients are able to go home the day after surgery.
If the tumor is cancerous, several treatment options are available, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.