Just above the kidneys, a pair of triangular adrenal glands acts as the master controller of the body’s fight-or-flight response. Specialized cells within the glands, called chromaffin cells, secrete a mixture of adrenaline and other hormones that prime the body for high alert, readying it to do battle or run for cover. Chromaffin cells rarely form abnormal masses, and even more rarely are those masses cancerous. But when cancer does develop, the condition is called malignant pheochromocytoma. If the pheochromocytoma develops outside the adrenal gland, the mass may be referred to as a paraganglioma.
Pheochromocytoma sometimes causes secondary high blood pressure. Other symptoms include:
- Heart palpitations
- Sweating attacks
- Facial flushing or pallor
- Blood sugar control problems
- Constipation or abdominal distention
- Sudden low blood pressure upon standing
Advanced treatments for pheochromocytoma
Treatments for pheochromocytoma include:
Surgery: The principle treatment for pheochromocytoma is the surgical removal of the mass. Minimally invasive laparoscopic techniques may be used on smaller tumors.
Chemotherapy: A combination of chemotherapy drugs may be used to attack malignant pheochromocytoma from multiple directions. Some studies have suggested that a cocktail of cyclophosphamide, vincristine and dacarbazine may have an impact on pheochromocytoma.
Radiation: For patients whose pheochromocytoma has metastasized to the bones, external beam radiation therapy (EBRT) may be used to help reduce pain and other symptoms.