Bilateral adrenalectomy: a review of 10 years’ experience

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The 2012 British Association of Endocrine and Thyroid Surgeons audit report showed that only 86 of 1359 patients who underwent adrenalectomy had a bilateral operation; thus the experience with this procedure remains limited.


Retrospective review of patients undergoing bilateral adrenalectomy in a tertiary referral centre.


Between November 2005 and January 2016, bilateral adrenalectomy was performed in 23 patients (6 male, 17 female, age 43 ± 4 years) diagnosed with Cushing’s disease (n = 13), hereditary phaeochromocytomas (n = 6), adrenocortical cancer (n = 2), colorectal metastatic disease (n = 1) and adrenocortical adenomas (n = 1).


A laparoscopic transperitoneal approach was used in 17 patients, with one conversion to open. Three patients had open adrenalectomies for adrenocortical cancer and for simultaneous phaeochromocytomas and pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours in a patient with Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome. Three patients with Cushing’s had a bilateral retroperitoneoscopic operation. The mean operating time was 195 ± 16 minutes for laparoscopic operations (n = 16), 243 ± 44 minutes for open adrenalectomies (n = 4) and 151 ± 12 minutes for retroperitoneal operations. It was significantly shorter for Cushing’s disease than for phaeochromocytomas (162 ± 8 vs. 257 ± 39 minutes, P < 0.01).


Median length of hospital stay was 5 days. Postoperative complications (Clavien-Dindo classification) included one chest infection (level 2), one postoperative haemorrhage and two chest drains for pneumothorax (level 3), two postoperative cardiac arrests (level 4) and one late cancer death from complications related to uncontrolled hypercortisolism (level 5).


Synchronous bilateral adrenalectomy remains an infrequent operation. The laparoscopic approach is feasible in the majority of patients. It is likely that the retroperitoneoscopic adrenalectomy will become the standard approach for bilateral operations.

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