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Adrenocortical tumours: high CT attenuation value correlates with eosinophilia but does not discriminate lipid-poor adenomas from malignancy
  1. Mirkka Pennanen1,
  2. Merja Raade2,
  3. Johanna Louhimo3,
  4. Timo Sane4,
  5. Ilkka Heiskanen3,
  6. Johanna Arola1,
  7. Caj Haglund3,5
  1. 1Department of Pathology, Haartman Institute, University of Helsinki and HUSLAB, Helsinki, Finland
  2. 2HUS Medical Imaging Center, Helsinki University Central Hospital, Helsinki, Finland
  3. 3Department of Surgery, Helsinki University Central Hospital, Helsinki, Finland
  4. 4Division of Endocrinology, Department of Medicine, Helsinki University Central Hospital, Helsinki, Finland
  5. 5Research Programs Unit, Translational Cancer Biology, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
  1. Correspondence to Dr Mirkka Pennanen, Department of Pathology/Haartman Institute, PO Box 21, FIN-00014, University of Helsinki, Finland; mirkka.pennanen{at}


Background Characterisation of adrenal tumours is an important clinical problem. Unenhanced CT is the primary imaging modality to assess the nature of these lesions.

Aims To study the correlation between unenhanced CT attenuation value and the specific histopathology, as well as the proportion of lipid-poor eosinophilic cells in adrenocortical tumours.

Methods We studied retrospectively primary adrenocortical tumours that had been operated on at Helsinki University Central Hospital between 2002 and 2008. Of 171 tumours, 79 had appropriate preoperative CT scans and were included in the study. We evaluated the unenhanced CT attenuation values (Hounsfield units, HU) of these tumours and determined their histopathological diagnosis by the Weiss scoring system. We also assessed the proportion of lipid-poor eosinophilic cells for each tumour.

Results Unenhanced CT attenuation value (HU) in adrenocortical tumours correlated well with the proportion of lipid-poor eosinophilic cells (rs=0.750, p<0.001). HU and Weiss score also had a correlation (rs=0.582, p<0.001).

Conclusions Unenhanced CT attenuation value correlates well with the percentage of lipid-poor eosinophilic cells, but unenhanced CT attenuation value fails to differentiate between benign lipid-poor adenomas and malignant adrenocortical tumours. All adrenocortical tumours with unenhanced CT attenuation value ≤10 HU are histologically benign lipid-rich tumours.

  • Adrenal Gland
  • Neoplasms
  • Diagnostics
  • Histopathology

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