Recent developments in molecular genetics have expanded the spectrum of disorders associated with pheochromocytomas (PCCs) and extra-adrenal paragangliomas (PGLs) and have increased the roles of pathologists in helping to guide patient care. At least 30% of these tumors are now known to be hereditary, and germline mutations of at least 10 genes are known to cause the tumors to develop. Genotype-phenotype correlations have been identified, including differences in tumor distribution, catecholamine production, and risk of metastasis, and types of tumors not previously associated with PCC/PGL are now considered in the spectrum of hereditary disease. Important new findings are that mutations of succinate dehydrogenase genes SDHA, SDHB, SDHC, SDHD, and SDHAF2 (collectively ". SDHx") are responsible for a large percentage of hereditary PCC/PGL and that SDHB mutations are strongly correlated with extra-adrenal tumor location, metastasis, and poor prognosis. Further, gastrointestinal stromal tumors and renal tumors are now associated with SDHx mutations. A PCC or PGL caused by any of the hereditary susceptibility genes can present as a solitary, apparently sporadic, tumor, and substantial numbers of patients presenting with apparently sporadic tumors harbor occult germline mutations of susceptibility genes. Current roles of pathologists are differential diagnosis of primary tumors and metastases, identification of clues to occult hereditary disease, and triaging of patients for optimal genetic testing by immunohistochemical staining of tumor tissue for the loss of SDHB and SDHA protein. Diagnostic pitfalls are posed by morphological variants of PCC/PGL, unusual anatomic sites of occurrence, and coexisting neuroendocrine tumors of other types in some hereditary syndromes. These pitfalls can be avoided by judicious use of appropriate immunohistochemical stains. Aside from loss of staining for SDHB, criteria for predicting risk of metastasis are still controversial, and "malignancy" is diagnosed only after metastases have occurred. All PCCs/PGLs are considered to pose some risk of metastasis, and long-term follow-up is advised.

Composite tumors, Genetics, Malignancy, Paragangliomas, Pheochromocytomas, SDHB,
Seminars in Diagnostic Pathology
Department of Pathology

Papathomas, T.G, de Krijger, R.R, & Tischler, A.S. (2013). Paragangliomas: Update on differential diagnostic considerations, composite tumors, and recent genetic developments. Seminars in Diagnostic Pathology, 30(3), 207–223. doi:10.1053/j.semdp.2013.06.006