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Pheochromocytoma is a rare tumor that usually develops from one of the body's two adrenal glands, located above each kidney in the back of the upper abdomen. The cancer typically develops in the central part of the adrenal glands called the adrenal medulla, which is responsible for producing important hormones such epinephrine, adrenalin, norepinephrine and dopamine, and may occur as a single tumor or as multiple growths.

These tumors often secrete too much hormone, which can cause high blood pressure, palpitations and headaches. High blood pressure that is left untreated can cause heart disease, stroke and other major health problems.

Tumors that develop outside the adrenal glands are called paragangliomas. About 10 to 15 percent of pheochromocytomas are malignant, or cancerous, with the potential to spread to other parts of the body. The condition may occur at any age, but is most common in young and middle-aged adults.

Our approach to pheochromocytoma

UCSF is an international leader in endocrinology care. We provide comprehensive consultations, evaluations and treatments for a wide range of adrenal hormone conditions, such as pheochromocytoma.

Surgery is the primary treatment for this disorder. The tumors are usually benign, but in the rare cases of a cancerous tumor, we may use a combination of surgical removal, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. We coordinate patients' surgical care at our adrenal surgery center, which is one of the largest programs of its kind in the United States. The center's team has pioneered innovative methods for diagnosing and treating adrenal disorders, and our surgeons are experts in minimally invasive techniques.

Awards & recognition

  • usnews-neurology

    Among the top hospitals in the nation

  • usnews-diabetes-and-endocrinology

    Best in Northern California for diabetes care & endocrinology

UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.