Dr. med. Dirk Manski

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Indications for Adrenalectomy

Adrenalectomy is indicated for adrenal tumors larger than 5 cm or for adrenal tumors with hormonal activity. Adrenal tumors <3 cm in size without hormonal activity require watchful waiting (with imaging controls). Adrenal tumors of 3–5 cm in size without hormonal activity may be surgically removed, or alternatively depending on age and comorbidities, are managed by watchful waiting (with imaging controls).

Contraindications to Adrenalectomy

Surgical Technique of Adrenalectomy

Preoperative Patient Preparation:

Surgical Approach:

Small adrenal tumors (up to 6 cm) may be treated with a flank incision, via a laparoscopic or via a retroperitoneoscopic approach. A transperitoneal approach (midline laparotomy or subcostal incision) is preferable for larger adrenal tumors or adrenal pheochromocytoma (Brunt, 2006). Very large adrenal masses may be approached via a thoracoabdominal incision

Flank incision:

Lateral decubitus position. Padding of all relevant pressure points (Knees, ankles, elbows...). The table is flexed and the kidney rest is elevated. An oblique intercostal flank incision is done between the 11th and 12th rib (or 10th and 11th rib). Careful dissection of the subcostal nerve is necessary to avoid nerval injury and consecutive flank bulge. Open the fascia renalis. Blunt dissection of the layer between perirenal fat and psoas muscle (dorsal of the kidney). Blunt dissection between peritoneum and perirenal fat (ventral of the kidney) until exposure of the renal vein.

Retroperitoneoscopic access to the adrenal gland:

The retroperitoneoscopic access to the kidney and adrenal glands is described in section retroperitoneoscopic nephrectomy. See also fig. retroperitoneoscopic access.

Retroperitoneoscopic adrenalectomy left:
a–c) development of the retroperitoneal cavity after balloon dilation (NN=adrenal gland).
d) Preparation between the adrenal gland, diaphragm, and peritoneum.
e) Dissection between the kidney and renal fat capsule (Niere=kidney).
f–g) clipping and division of the adrenal vessels (V. suprar.= adrenal vein).
h) site after adrenalectomy (Milz=spleen).
retroperitoneoscopic laparoscopic adrenalectomy for an adrenal tumor

Laparoscopic access to the adrenal gland:

The laparoscopic access to the kidney and adrenal glands is described in section laparoscopic nephrectomy.

Open transperitoneal approach:

A subcostal incision and transsection of the ligamentum teres hepatis is done. A laterocolic incision (line of Toldt) is done to dissect the colon to the middle. On the left side, peritoneal ligaments have to be dissected between spleen and abdominal wall. On the right side, the duodenum has to be mobilized from the inferior caval vein.

Mobilization of the upper renal pole:

The upper pole of the kidney is dissected from the perinephric fat until the hilar vessels of the kidney are identified.

Left adrenalectomy:

First dissect the left suprarenal vein near the renal vein. Now it is possible to dissect the adrenal gland circulary, while small vessels are clipped or coagulated.

Right adrenalectomy:

First dissect the adrenal gland from the diaphragm and the upper pole of the kidney. Now the plane between adrenal gland and vena cava is dissected, the suprarenal vein is clipped or divided between sutures.

Drains after adrenalectomy:

Draining of retroperitoneal cavity is often performed, but is probably not necessary after uncomplicated adrenalectomy.

Care after Adrenalectomy

General measures:

Early mobilization. Respiratory therapy. Thrombosis prophylaxis. Laboratory controls. Wound inspections.

Analgesia after Adrenalectomy:

A flank approach or open transperitoneal approach is painful and an epidural catheter is an option. Without epidural analgesia, pain medication according to the WHO pain ladder is given, starting with e.g. metamizol and tramadol.

Drains and catheters:

Hormone replacement therapy:

There is a risk of an Addisonian crisis (adrenal insufficiency) after unilateral adrenalectomy for Morbus Cushing, since the contralateral adrenal gland is suppressed. After bilateral adrenalectomy, adrenal insufficiency must be prevented by hormonal substitution, please see section adrenal insufficiency.

Complications of Adrenalectomy

Index: 1–9 A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Brunt, L. M.
Minimal access adrenal surgery.
Surg Endosc, 2006, 20, 351-361.

  Deutsche Version: Adrenalektomie