n South African Medical Journal - Phaeochromocytoma in black South Africans - a 30-year audit : original article




Phaeochromocytomas are catecholamine-secreting tumours, the majority of which arise from the adrenal medulla. Untreated, they are potentially lethal; early diagnosis and treatment offer a good chance of cure. They are rarely reported in blacks. The clinical presentation and outcome of phaeochromocytoma in a large cohort of black South Africans is reviewed.

Patients' records in a tertiary care university hospital were reviewed. Fifty-four black patients presenting with phaeochromocytoma between 1980 and 2009 were included. The clinical presenting features, tumour localisation and outcome were assessed.
Fifty-four (41 female, 13 male; age range 8 - 57 years) patients were identified. Five (9%) had familial syndromes; 49 (91%) were deemed sporadic. All tumours were intra-abdominal: 34 (61%) were adrenal and 22 (39%) extra-adrenal in origin. The most common symptoms were headache (77%), palpitations (77%), and sweating (74%). All were hypertensive, almost equally divided between paroxysmal and sustained hypertension. Six (11%) presented in congestive cardiac failure including 2 with catecholamine-induced myocarditis. Two patients had features which simulated hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy. Nine women presented in pregnancy: there was no maternal mortality; fetal mortality included 1 early neonatal death and 1 intrauterine death. There were 4 deaths: 1 from postoperative haemorrhage, 1 from multisystem crisis, 1 from metastatic medullary thyroid carcinoma, and 1 from catecholamine-induced myocarditis.
Phaeochromocytoma is an important although rare tumour in blacks, with similar clinical presentations and complications to those in white patients. Timely diagnosis and appropriate treatment resulted in a favourable outcome in over 90% of patients in this study.


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