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About Pheochromocytoma and Paraganglioma Syndromes

  • Pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas are rare types of neuroendocrine tumors that are typically benign, or noncancerous. Pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas are caused by an abnormal growth in chromaffin cells. Chromaffin cells are a type of cell that makes neurohormones and releases the neurohormones into the blood. Neurohormones are chemicals that are made by nerve cells and used to send signals to other cells. While many pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas are benign, some can become cancerous (malignant). Early detection and treatment of the tumor is important for optimal results. The diseases can be diagnosed by blood and urine tests, imaging tests or genetic testing.

    While pheochromocytoma and paraganglioma are often used interchangeably, paragangliomas that occur in the adrenal medulla are called pheochromocytomas, and those outside the adrenal gland are called paragangliomas.

    Our Team Approach to Treating Pheochromocytomas and Paragangliomas

    Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center experts at our Neuroendocrine and Carcinoid Tumors Program, part of the Gastrointestinal Treatment Cancer Center, are studying pheochromocytoma and paraganglioma syndromes to better understand who is at high risk and determine the best treatment. The program's multidisciplinary approach to treatment often involves medical therapies, surgery and chemotherapy. Experts work together to create an individualized treatment plan for each patient.

    Pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas are increasingly being recognized as part of a larger syndrome with a genetic basis. Patients and families also have access to our Center for Cancer Genetics and Prevention. Adrenal endocrinologists, adrenal geneticists, and genetic counselors provide patients with new genetic technologies that can identify their risk, or a family member's risk, for developing pheochromocytoma and paraganglioma syndromes.

    How Pheochromocytomas and Paragangliomas Develop

    Pheochromocytomas develop in the adrenal glands, which are located above each kidney in the back of the upper abdomen. When chromaffin cells form a tumor elsewhere in the body, they are called paragangliomas.

    The adrenal glands create hormones called catecholamines which help control one's heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, and the way the body reacts to stress. Sometimes pheochromocytoma and paraganglioma syndromes release extra neurohormones, adrenaline (epinephrine) and noradrenaline (norepinephrine), into the blood and cause signs or symptoms of disease.

    Symptoms of Pheochromocytomas and Paragangliomas

    Symptoms of pheochromocytoma and paraganglioma syndromes include:

    • High blood pressure/hypertension (most common)
    • Headache
    • Heavy sweating for no reason (hyperhidrosis)
    • Strong, fast, or irregular heartbeat
    • Shakiness
    • Extreme paleness (pallor)

    Research and Clinical Trials for Pheochromocytomas and Paragangliomas

    Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center includes some of the world's top researchers and clinicians in pheochromocytoma and paraganglioma syndromes. Staffed by medical, surgical, and radiation oncologists, we offer the latest treatments fueled by ongoing research and discovery including new clinical trials.

    Featured Clinical Trial: Pheochromocytomas and Paragangliomas

    Testing the Addition of an Anticancer Drug, Olaparib, to the Usual Chemotherapy (Temozolomide) for Advanced Neuroendocrine Cancer
    Trial Number: NCT04394858
    Principal Investigators: Kimberly Perez, MD, Jaydira Del Rivero, MD
    Trial Description: This phase II trial studies how well the addition of olaparib to the usual treatment, temozolomide, works in treating patients with neuroendocrine cancer (pheochromocytoma or paraganglioma) that has spread to other places in the body (metastatic) or cannot be removed by surgery (unresectable).

    Pheochromocytoma and Paraganglioma Treatment Team

    Experts in our Neuroendocrine and Carcinoid Tumors Program work together with Brigham and Women's Hospital specialists to create an individualized treatment plan that offers you the most effective, comprehensive care available for pheochromocytoma and paraganglioma syndromes.

    Leadership

    Jennifer Chan, MD, MPH, Oncologist
    Kimberly Perez, MD, Oncologist
    Anand Vaidya, MD, Endocrinologist and Director of the Center for Adrenal Disorders (Brigham and Women's Hospital)
    Matthew Nehs, MD, Endocrine Surgeon (Brigham and Women's Hospital)
    Huma Rana, MD, MPH, Medical Genetics and Clinical Director Cancer Genetics and Prevention

    See the complete list of our gastrointestinal cancer specialists.

    Contact Us

    New Patients

    To request an appointment, please call 877-442-3324 or 617-632-3476, or complete the online form.

    You may schedule your first appointment for as soon as the next day. After scheduling, one of our nurses will call you to answer your questions and help you prepare for the appointment.

    Referring Physicians

    To refer a patient, please call 877-441-3324 or complete the online referral form.

    Mailing address

    Neuroendocrine and Carcinoid Tumors Program
    Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
    450 Brookline Avenue
    Boston, MA 02215

  • New Patient Appointments
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  • Clinical Trials Questions?

    877-DF-TRIAL
    (877-338-7425)