Evidence - Right adrenalectomy, open

  1. Literature summary

    In benign adrenal tumors the usual technique is minimally invasive adrenal surgery (either via transabdominal or retroperitoneoscopic access).

    Factor suggesting malignant growth must be recognized and considered early because in these malignant tumors open surgery is still preferred over minimally invasive techniques.

    After curative resection of the primary and if there are no confirmed other metastases, the preferred technique in synchronous and metachronous metastases of lung cancer, malignant melanoma and renal cell carcinoma still is open surgery.

    Since infiltrating and organ invading tumors are exclusion criteria for minimally invasive surgery, most authors oppose endoscopic resection of adrenal metastases. Very few cases have been published to date. In the absence of metastases, definite differentiation between benign and malignant tumors is rarely possible before surgery, even by histopathology.

    The risk of malignancy for tumors less than 4cm in diameter is estimated at about 2%. However, in tumors larger than 6cm the risk is about 25%.

    At present, endoscopic resection of adrenal tumors larger than 6cm is under intense discussion. Several small studies demonstrated a higher rate of local recurrence and capsular injury in patients with tumors larger than 6cm who had undergone laparoscopic adrenalectomy. Two somewhat larger studies concluded that by itself tumor size does not contraindicate endoscopic surgery.

    While Naja et al. in their study demonstrated a longer duration of surgery (210 minutes versus 175 minutes) and heavier bleeding (about 200mL versus 30mL) in patients with tumors larger than 6cm, they nevertheless concluded that safe laparoscopic adrenalectomy is still possible even in large tumors.

     For tumors sized 5cm - 11cm and tumors smaller than 5cm, the retrospective analysis by Zorro et al. of 178 laparoscopic adrenalectomies did not find any difference in the duration of surgery, severity of bleeding and complication rate.

    The authors emphasized that the choice of surgical technique should be governed by the presence or absence of invasive growth and not by the size of the tumor. Unfortunately, the authors of both studies did not analyze the oncological results.

    However, good patient outcome does not depend on meeting all criteria of oncological radicality but rather on avoiding injury to the tumor capsule and tumor cell dissemination.


    The old assumption of a 10% rate of malignancy in pheochromocytoma has been revised recently and today is estimated at about 5%. The objective of the various imaging modalities employed, e.g., CT, MRI, 123J-MIBG-PET and 18F-DOPA-PET, is the early detection of malignant neoplasias and synchronous hereditary tumors.

    Until now, pheochromocytomas have been described as “10% tumors”, since 10% are bilateral, 10% exhibit malignant growth, 10% are hereditary in nature, and - leaving aside the official nomenclature - 10% are extra-adrenal in location. This rule of thumb is not coherent because in bilateral pheochromocytoma genetic disposition must be assumed. However, since not all familial cases exhibit synchronous bilateral pheochromocytomas, the number of actual hereditary cases must be higher than 10%.

    Hormone production

    Comparative quantitative measurements of catecholamines released perioperatively in open and laparoscopic surgery for pheochromocytoma demonstrated even for these patients less intraoperative and postoperative stress in laparoscopic surgery than in standard open technique.

    Later studies by other authors confirmed these data and showed that compared with open surgery the intraoperative CO2 insufflation and laparoscopic tumor dissection did not release more catecholamines and also did not put additional stress on the cardiovascular situation of the patients.

    Nevertheless, it is recommended to first gather adequate experience with the laparoscopic resection of non-hormone producing adrenal tumors, as well as tumors producing aldosterone or cortisol, before turning to laparoscopic adrenalectomy in patients with pheochromocytoma.

    A core requirement for low-risk surgery in pheochromocytomas is adequate preoperative alpha blocking with phenoxybenzamine, which usually should be gradually increased in dosage to 3-5mg/kg body weight/day. Paragangliomas solely secreting dopamine are special cases.

    It is reasonable to preoperatively treat patients with Conn syndrome with spironolactone, an aldosterone antagonist. Particularly in the presence of marked hypokalemia, this pretreatment is quite helpful in avoiding the severe elevation in the potassium level immediately after surgery. In primary hyperaldosteronism the patients are pretreated over a period of about 6 weeks with spironolactone 200mg - 300mg before surgery; depending on the blood pressure this dose may be upped to 400mg.

    Patients with Cushing syndrome usually do not require antihormone treatment except for disease specific metabolic urgency.

    Intraoperative and postoperative hormone replacement therapy with hydrocortisone must be instituted in all unilateral resections where the underlying disorder has suppressed the contralateral adrenal, and in all bilateral adrenalectomies. Once oral diet has been restarted switch the hydrocortisone to cortisol and fluorocortisol.

    Specific anatomical features

    Right adrenalectomy is regarded as technically more challenging than the left sided resection. The reason for this is the short right suprarenal vein which runs far posteriad and is anatomically hard to access. In case of bleeding close to the inferior cava the situation quickly gets out of hand.

    In 20% to 30% of cases there are anatomical variants (doubling, crossing over or junction with accessory posterior hepatic veins, junction at the angle of inferior vena cava with right renal vein). Unlike on the right side, the course of the left suprarenal vein draining into the left renal vein is much easier to expose, and there are far fewer anatomical variants. In most cases a small phrenic vein (inferior phrenic vein running on the left crus of the diaphragm) drains into the suprarenal vein, with the latter serving as landmark.

  2. Ongoing trails on this topic

  3. References on this topic

    Shahait A, Saleh K, Weaver D, Mostafa G. Two Decades' Outcomes and Trends of Adrenalectomy for Benign Pathologies in Veterans. Surg Laparosc Endosc Percutan Tech. 2022 Sep 2

    Zhang L, Chen D, Pang Y, Guan X, Xu X, Wang C, Xiao Q, Liu L. Surgical treatment  of large pheochromocytoma (>6 cm): A 10-year single-center experience. Asian J Urol. 2022 Jul;9(3):294-300.

    Uttinger KL, Riedmeier M, Reibetanz J, Meyer T, Germer CT, Fassnacht M, Wiegering A, Wiegering V. Adrenalectomies in children and adolescents in Germany – a diagnose related groups based analysis from 2009-2017. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2022 Jul 27;13:914449.

    Holzer K, Bartsch DK. [Are there still indications for open adrenalectomy?] Chirurgie (Heidelb). 2022 Sep;93(9):856-860.

    Selvaraj N, Pooleri GK, Addla SK, Raghavan D, Govindaswamy TG, Balakrishnan AK, Sivaraman A, Jain N, Kandasamy SG, Ragavan N. Robot assisted laparoscopic adrenalectomy: Should this be the new standard? Urologia. 2022 Aug;89(3):430-436.

    Hou Q, Zhang B, Luo Y, Wang P, Yang S, Shang P. Predictive Factors for Conversion from Laparoscopic Adrenalectomy to Open Surgery: A 9-Year Review of 911 Cases. J  Laparoendosc Adv Surg Tech A. 2022 May 26.

    Buller DM, Hennessey AM, Ristau BT. Open versus minimally invasive surgery for suspected adrenocortical carcinoma. Transl Androl Urol. 2021 May;10(5):2246-2263.

    Al-Jalabneh T, Al-Shawabkeh O, Al-Gwairy I, Abu-Zeitoun O, Al-Njadat I, Al-Soudi M, Zarour A. Laparoscopic Versus Open Adrenalectomy: a Retrospective Comparative  Study. Med Arch. 2021 Feb;75(1):41-44.

    Taylor CJ, Monnet E. A comparison of outcomes between laparoscopic and open adrenalectomies in dogs. Vet Surg. 2021 Jul;50 Suppl 1:O99-O107. 


Gan L, Meng C, Li K, Lei Peng, Li J, Wu J, Li Y. Safety and effectiveness of minimally invasive adr

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