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David Joseph Tansey, Jim John Egan, Michelle Murray, Katie Padfield, John Conneely, and Mensud Hatunic

Summary

Phaeochromocytoma is a rare catecholamine-producing tumour. We present the case of phaeochromocytoma in a young man with a background history of a double-lung transplant for cystic fibrosis (CF). Clinical case: A 25-year-old man, with a background history of CF, CF-related diabetes (CFRD) and a double-lung transplant in 2012 was presented to the emergency department with crampy abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. He was diagnosed with distal intestinal obstructions syndrome (DIOS). Contrast-enhanced CT imaging of the abdomen and pelvis showed a 3.4 cm right adrenal lesion. This was confirmed by a subsequent MRI of adrenal glands that demonstrated moderate FDG uptake, suggestive of a diagnosis of phaeochromocytoma. The patient was noted to be hypertensive with a blood pressure averaging 170/90 mm/Hg despite treatment with three different anti-hypertensive medications – amlodipine, telmisartan and doxazosin. He had hypertension for the last 3 years and had noted increasingly frequent sweating episodes recently, without palpitations or headache. Laboratory analysis showed elevated plasma normetanephrines (NMN) of 3167 pmol/L (182–867) as well as elevated metanephrines (MN) of 793 pmol/L (61–377) and a high 3-MT of 257 pmol/L (<185). Once cathecholamine excess was identified biochemically, we proceeded to functional imaging to further investigate. MIBG scan showed a mild increase in the uptake of tracer to the right adrenal gland compared to the left. The case was discussed at a multidisciplinary (MDT) meeting at which the diagnosis of phaeochromocytoma was made. Following a challenging period of 4 weeks to control the patient’s blood pressure with an alpha-blocker and beta-blocker, the patient had an elective right adrenalectomy, with normalisation of his blood pressure post-surgery. The histopathology of the excised adrenal gland was consistent with a 3 cm phaeochromocytoma with no adverse features associated with malignant potential.

Learning points

  • Five to ten per cent of patients have a secondary cause for hypertension. Phaeochromocytomas are rare tumours, originating in chromaffin cells and they represent 0.1–1.0% of all secondary hypertension cases.
  • Secondary causes should be investigated in cases where:
  • Patient is presenting <20 years of age or >50 years of age,
  • There is refractory hypertension, or
  • There is serious end-organ damage present.
  • Patients may present with the triad of headache, sweating and palpitations or more vague, non-specific symptoms.
  • Patients with suspected phaeochromocytoma should have 24-h urinary catecholamines measured and if available, plasma metanephrines measured. Those with abnormal biochemical tests should be further investigated with imaging to locate the tumour.
  • Medical treatment involves alpha- and beta-blockade for at least 2 to 3 weeks before surgery as well as rehydration.
  • There is a possibility of relapse so high-risk patients require life-long follow-up.