BACKGROUND - Laparoscopic adrenalectomy for small pheochromocytomas, although challenging, is widely accepted. However, its application to pheochromocytomas larger than 6 cm is questioned due to concerns of malignancy and case complexity. Our aim was to examine the impact of pheochromocytoma tumor size (>/=6 cm vs <6 cm) on operative approach and postoperative patient outcomes.
METHODS - A retrospective review of adrenalectomies performed at 3 university hospitals over 1 decade was analyzed. All pheochromocytomas were identified and then divided based on size into large (>/=6 cm) and small (<6 cm) groups. We examined patient and tumor demographics, pathologic diagnosis, operative approach (laparoscopic vs open), postoperative complications, and biochemical cure rates. Data were analyzed using the Student t test and Fisher exact test with a P value <.05 considered significant.
RESULTS - From 1995 to 2005, 65 pheochromocytomas were resected. Of the total, 38% (n = 25) tumors were >/=6 cm and 62% (n = 40) were <6 cm. For the large tumors, 1 out of 25 (4%) was malignant, whereas no small tumors were malignant. There was no statistically significant increased risk of malignancy in tumors >/=6 cm in size (P = .31). Initial operative approach was based on surgeon preference. Of the adrenalectomies performed, 88% were laparoscopic, with 3 of 25 (12%) large tumors requiring conversion from laparoscopic to open for intraoperative bleeding. None of the small tumors required conversion. No major postoperative complications (eg, stroke or myocardial infarction) occurred in either group. Minor complications (eg, wound infections and hematomas) were noted in 16% of large tumors and 12.5% of small tumors (P = .45). A total of 96% (24 of 25) patients with large tumors and 100% with small tumors showed postoperative biochemical cure. Tumor recurrence was noted in 1 patient with a tumor <6 cm.
CONCLUSIONS - Pheochromocytomas >/=6 cm pose a challenge for laparoscopic resection, and concerns have been raised about the validity of this operative approach. This study demonstrates that there is no significant difference in the rate of malignancy for pheochromocytomas >/=6 cm versus <6 cm. There also were no significant differences identified in complication rates, postoperative biochemical cures, or tumor recurrence rates between these groups. Laparoscopic resection of pheochromocytomas can be safely accomplished regardless of size in centers with surgeons experienced in these procedures.