Adrenal incidentalomas are adrenal masses discovered incidental to imaging studies performed for reasons unrelated to adrenal pathology. Although most adrenal incidentalomas are non-functioning benign adenomas, their increasing prevalence presents diagnostic and therapeutic challenges. The assessment of adrenal incidentalomas is aimed at deciding whether or not the tumour should be surgically removed. Adrenalectomy is indicated for phaeochromocytoma, other symptomatic hormone-secreting tumours and those with a high risk of malignancy. Biochemical screening for tumour hypersecretion is mandatory in all adrenal incidentalomas, since hormone secreting tumours may be clinically silent. The diagnosis of phaeochromocytoma is of paramount importance because of its life-threatening complications. Non-functioning adrenal incidentalomas need assessment for risk of malignancy, and this is based on the size of the tumour and its imaging characteristics. An observational policy with periodic radiological and biochemical reassessment is pursued in patients with non-functioning incidentalomas with low malignancy risk. The duration and frequency of reassessment remains unclear, as the natural history of adrenal incidentalomas has yet to be clearly defined, and there is a lack of controlled studies comparing surgical intervention with observation. However, the possibility of acquiring autonomous hypersecretion or conversion to malignancy in an incidentaloma diagnosed to be a benign non-functioning lesion is very low, and most patients may be safely discharged after an initial follow-up period of 2 years.
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Competing interests: None.