Pheochromocytomas (PCC) and paragangliomas (PGL) are rare neuroendocrine tumors that arise in the adrenal medulla and in extra-adrenal locations, such as the head, neck, thorax, abdomen, and pelvis. Classification of these tumors into those with or without metastatic potential on the basis of gross or microscopic features is challenging. Recent insights and scoring systems have attempted to develop solutions for this, as described in the latest World Health Organization (WHO) edition on endocrine tumor pathology. PCC and PGL are amongst the tumors most frequently accompanied by germline mutations. More than 20 genes are responsible for a hereditary background in up to 40% of these tumors; somatic mutations in the same and several additional genes form the basis for another 30%. However, this does not allow for a complete understanding of the pathogenesis or targeted treatment of PCC and PGL, for which surgery is the primary treatment and for which metastasis is associated with poor outcome. This review describes recent insights into the cell of origin of these tumors, the latest developments with regard to the genetic background, and the current status of tumor classification including proposed scoring systems.
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