Hyperadrenalism in childhood and adolescence

C. G. Thomas, A. T. Smith, J. M. Griffith, F. B. Askin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Hyperadrenalism in childhood and adolescence has unique features that influence diagnosis and management. We reviewed our experience with 18 patients, ranging in age from 18 months to 18 years. Nine had bilateral adrenal hyperplasia, eight had adrenal neoplasms, and one had micronodular hyperplasia. Patients with congenital adrenal hyperplasia and hyperaldosteronism were excluded. Six patients with Cushing's disease diagnosed in earlier years were treated by total adrenalectomy and recently two patients underwent transsphenoidal removal of pituitary tumors. Bilateral adrenalectomy was carried out in one patient with micronodular hyperplasia and in a second because of elevated adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) levels from an undefined source. Eight patients had adrenal neoplasms, including five adenomas and three carcinomas. We found no reliable criteria to differentiate before surgery between adrenal adenomas and adrenal carcinomas. The most recognizable characteristic of malignancy was tumor size, specifically weight greater than 75 gms. Of the three patients with adrenal carcinoma, one expired 20 months after adrenalectomy and 8 months after receiving palliative partial hepatectomy for liver metastases. Two patients are well with normal growth and development at 11 and 20 years following adrenalectomy. With the exception of one patient who died 6 years after surgery from a glioblastoma multiforme, all patients with adrenal adenomas are well. Eight patients underwent bilateral adrenalectomy for hypercortisolism. Five of the six who have reached their adult stature are significantly stunted. Four of six patients with Cushing's disease, treated by total adrenalectomy, have developed Nelson's syndrome at 2, 6, 10, and 12 years after surgery. Of the two patients undergoing transsphenoidal surgery, one had recurrent disease at 2 years and was treated by pituitary irradiation with recovery. The patients undergoing adrenalectomy for micronodular hyperplasia and ectopic ACTH are well at 2 and 4 years, respectively. Cushig's disease in children and adolescents is best treated by transsphenoidal removal of the pituitary adenoma. Adrenalectomy, once the most accepted approach, plays a secondary role and is indicated primarily in micronodular adrenal hyperplasia, in patients with ectopic ACTH production of an undefined source, and in recurrent Cushing's disease following prior pituitary irradiation. The high incidence of Nelson's syndrome in children treated by adrenalectomy mandates that patients at risk be monitored lifelong for the progression of a pituitary tumor. Irradiation should be considered in patients with recurrent Cushing's disease following transsphenoidal surgery and as an alternative to hypophysectomy in the prepubertal patient with Nelson's syndrome. Adrenalectomy remains the treatment of choice for adrenal tumors with the prognosis being excellent in neoplasms weighing less than 75 gms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)538-548
Number of pages11
JournalAnnals of surgery
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1984
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery

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