Hereditary pheochromocytoma/parganglioma (HPP) syndromes are genetic diseases based on heterozygous mutations in an SDH gene, the MAX gene, or the TMEM127 gene. They are characterized by typically benign tumors originating in the neural crest. Extra-adrenal parasympathetic paragangliomas are frequently located in the area of the brain base, neck, and upper mediastinum and are generally not secretory. In contrast, sympathetic paragangliomas are usually located in the area of the lower mediastinum, abdomen, and pelvis and are hormone-producing. In addition, there is an association with gastrointestinal stromal tumors, renal cell tumors, and papillary thyroid adenomas.

Key Data

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Synonyms Familiar glomus tumors, familiar non-chromaffinic paragangliomas
Gene products SDH (succinate dehydrogenase) with subunits A-D, SDHAF2
MAX (MYC-associated factor X)
TMEM127 (transmembrane protein)
Function Tumor suppressors
Heredity Autosomal-dominant: SDHA, SDHB, SDHC, TMEM127
Paternal transmission: SDHD, SDHAF2, MAX
Around 65% of de novo mutations
Prevalence The incidence is around 1:300.000 per year.
Genotype-phenotype correlation SDHB:

  • Higher level of morbidity and mortality than with other SDHx mutations
  • Strong association with extra-adrenal, sympathetic paragangliomas
  • Around 20% have pheochromocytomas Paragangliomas exhibit a considerable tendency towards metastasis


  • Association with parasympathetic paragangliomas of the brain base and neck
  • Patients with an SDHD mutation frequently have multiple tumors, while patients with an SDHC mutation tend to develop solitary tumors.
  • Only tumors in the head and neck area – mainly carotid bifurcation tumors – have been reported so far in patients with an SDHAF2 mutation.
  • SDHA: Most common mutation, which is associated with gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST)
Penetrance SDHD mutations: 90%
SDHB mutations: 30%-50%
SDHA, SDHC, SDHAF2, and TMEM127 mutations: unclear to date
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Suspected Diagnosis

The existence of HPP is suspected based on the following findings:

  • Bilateral or multiple paragangliomas/pheochromocytomas

  • Multifocal paragangliomas/pheochromocytomas, the occurrences of which are synchronous or metachronous

  • Recurring paragangliomas/pheochromocytomas

  • Early occurrence of paragangliomas/pheochromocytomas (< 45 years)

  • Familiar presentation of paragangliomas/pheochromocytomas that are compatible with autosomal-dominant heredity

Genetic Diagnostics

The diagnosis of “hereditary paraganglioma/pheochromocytoma syndromes” is confirmed through evidence of a heterozygous germ line mutation in one of the SDHx genes, the MAX gene, or the TMEM127 gene obtained through sequential, deletion, or duplication analysis. The use of panel studies involving multiple genes may be meaningful as well.

Differential Diagnoses

  • Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1)

  • Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome

  • Multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 (MEN2)

  • Carney triad

  • Carney Stratakis syndrome

Clinical Presentation

Compared to sporadically occurring paragangliomas/pheochromocytomas (PGL/PHEO), tumors in the context of an SDHx mutation occur sooner, they are often multifocal or bilateral, and they tend to recur or occur as multiple synchronous neoplasias. Benign paragangliomas/pheochromocytomas generally grow slowly, while malignant tumors are typically more aggressive.

Paragangliomas in the Area of the Brain Base and Neck

Paragangliomas in these areas are generally associated with the parasympathetic nervous system. There does not tend to be hypersecretion of catecholamines with these paragangliomas. Clinical symptoms are typically caused by the space-occupying growth of these tumors, since they do not exhibit a tendency towards metastasis.

Carotid bifurcation tumors:

  • Usually asymptomatic, laterally progressive space-occupying growth

  • Symptoms caused by the tumor mass: compression of cranial nerves or the sympathetic trunk with resulting neuropathies

Vagal paragangliomas:

  • Presentation as with carotid bifurcation tumors

  • In addition, symptoms such as hoarseness, globus sensation, dysphagia, dysphonia, pain, cough, and aspirations may occur.

Jugulotympanic paragangliomas:

  • Can cause pulsatile tinnitus, hearing loss, and other symptoms caused by compression of the deep cranial nerves

Paragangliomas in the Area of the Thorax, Abdomen, and Pelvis

Paragangliomas in these regions are generally associated with the sympathetic nervous system. Tumors in these areas typically exhibit hypersecretion of catecholamines.

Pheochromocytomas and Extra-Adrenal Sympathetic Paragangliomas

In the context of an HPP, these kinds of tumors have a presentation similar to that of sporadic occurrence. They are generally detected through one of the following scenarios:

  • Signs and symptoms associated with a hypersecretion of catecholamines, such as hypertension and tachycardia, headache, palpitations, extreme sweating, and anxiety. Nausea, vomiting, lethargy, and weight loss may also be triggered by this kind of tumor.

  • Signs and symptoms caused by the growth of the neoplasia

  • Incidental finding from an MRI/CT

  • Screening for family members with an increased risk

Extra-adrenal, sympathetic paragangliomas have an increased tendency towards becoming malignant. This tendency is much lower with pheochromocytomas.

Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors (GIST)

These tumors can occur with mutations in all SDH subunits, most frequently with SDHA mutations. They are usually located in the stomach and originate in submucosal cells of Cajal. Gastric bleeding may occur as a complication.

Clear Cell Renal Cell Carcinoma and Papillary Thyroid Carcinoma

These tumors are described in the context of SDHB and SDHD mutations.

Therapeutic Considerations

The treatment of hereditary paragangliomas and pheochromocytomas is not much different than that of sporadically occurring tumors. Contacting the GPOH study for endocrine tumors is recommended.

Hormone-Producing Tumors

  • Pharmacological, adrenergic blocking for preventing a catecholamine excess

  • Surgical resection for malignant tumors

Non-Hormone-Producing Paragangliomas of the Brain Base and Neck

  • Early surgical therapy

  • Carotid bifurcation and vagal paragangliomas

    • Surgical resection is the therapy of choice. It is usually fully possible for this to be performed.
    • In older patients or when there are multiple comorbidities, surgical therapy may be delayed with regular imaging examinations. Radiotherapy can be considered for such patients as well.
  • Jugulotympanic paragangliomas

    • It is usually possible to surgically resect small tumors without any difficulty.
    • For larger tumors, complications may occur due to surgical resection, such as CSF leakage, meningitis, stroke, hearing loss, and cranial nerve paralysis.


  • Surgical resection – ideally by means of laparoscopy – is the therapy of choice.

  • Before the operation, combined α and β-adrenergic blocking should be carried out with medication.

Patients with an SDHB Mutation

  • These patients should undergo surgical treatment as soon as possible after a tumor is diagnosed, since tumors in the context of an SDHB mutation have a strong tendency towards metastasis.

Surveillance Recommendations

Surveillance Recommendations

Since it is rare for tumors to develop during the first decade of life, the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) is currently proposing to start early detection studies at the age of 6-8 years. These are standard recommendations that are independent of the genetic mutation present.

Paragangliomas / Pheochromocytomas

  • Blood pressure checks at every medical examination (at least once a year) as of 6-8 years of age

  • Annual plasma methoxytyramine test as of 6-8 years of age

  • Annual plasma free metanephrines (PFM) test or fractionated metanephrines 24-hour urine test as of 6-8 years of age

    • if PFM is ≥ 4x above the reference value: compatible with PGL/PHEO; imaging for localization should be performed.
    • if PFM is 2x-4x above the reference value: Repeat the examination in 2 months.
    • if PFM is marginally elevated: Repeat the examination in 6 months (or perform a clonidine suppression test to exclude false-positive values).
  • Optional: Annual serum chromogranin A test as of 6-8 years of age

  • Full-body MRI (base of the skull to the pelvis) every two years as of 6-8 years of age

  • Optional: MRI of the neck with/without a contrast medium every two years

Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors (GIST)

  • Annual complete blood count as of 6-8 years of age

Additional Information

Open Clinical Trials / Registries

  • GPOH-MET registry study

Support Groups

Unfortunately, we are as yet unaware of any existing support groups for patients with hereditary pheochromocytoma/paraganglioma syndrome. We will add new information as it becomes available.