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August 1997

Prevalence of Adrenal Carcinoma Among Incidentally Discovered Adrenal Masses: A Retrospective Study From 1989 to 1994

Author Affiliations

for the Gruppo Piemontese Incidentalomi Surrenalici
From the Clinica Medica Generale, Dipartimento di Scienze Cliniche e Biologiche (Drs Terzolo, Alì, and Osella) and Endocrinologia, Dipartimento di Fisiopatologia Clinica (Dr Mazza), Università di Torino, Turin, Italy. A complete list of the members of the Gruppo Piemontese Incidentalomi Surrenalici appears in the box on page 915.

Arch Surg. 1997;132(8):914-919. doi:10.1001/archsurg.1997.01430320116020

Background:  The incidental discovery of an adrenal mass poses the problem of distinguishing between the frequent benign masses and the infrequent malignant ones that require surgery. Univocal guidelines to approach this problem are unavailable.

Objective:  To perform a survey of the clinical management of incidentally discovered adrenal masses (ie, adrenal incidentalomas).

Design:  A multicentric retrospective analysis of hospital medical records of adrenal incidentalomas diagnosed during a 5-year period; the medical records were scrutinized for demographic data and clinical details by means of a specifically tailored questionnaire.

Setting:  The major surgical and medical centers of Piedmont, a northern Italian region with approximately 4 million inhabitants. The recruitment pattern of these centers was unselected.

Patients:  The definition of adrenal incidentaloma was limited to patients with a physical examination and a clinical history unindicative of adrenal disease. Exclusion criteria also included hypertension of suspected endocrine origin and a history of neoplasms known to metastasize frequently in the adrenal glands. Two hundred twenty-four medical records were collected, and 210 were analyzed (14 excluded a posteriori).

Results:  Most patients were in their 50s and 60s, and women were predominantly affected. The frequency of adrenocortical cancer was 13% among patients operated on. The tumor diameter was highly correlated with the risk of cancer; a cutoff at 5 cm had a sensitivity of 93% with a specificity of 64% in discriminating between benign and malignant cortical lesions.

Conclusions:  The occurrence of adrenocortical carcinoma among adrenal incidentalomas is not rare. The evaluation of the mass size is a simple and effective method for selecting patients at risk for cancer. The indication for surgery of masses larger than 5 cm, or of masses of any diameter that have suspicious imaging characteristics, limits unnecessary operations and costs.Arch Surg. 1997;132:914-919