Correlation between size and function of unilateral and bilateral adrenocortical nodules: An observational study

Martha Katherine Paniagua Huayllas, Gopi K. Sirineni, Lynette M. Smith, J. Christopher Gallagher, Ravinder J. Singh, Brian C. Netzel, Claudio E. Kater

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE. Adrenal incidentalomas occur in 5% of adults and can produce autonomous cortisol secretion that increases the risk of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease. The objective of our study was to evaluate the relationship between adrenal nodule size measured on CT and autonomous cortisol secretion. SUBJECTS AND METHODS. In a prospective study of 73 patients 22–87 years old with incidentalomas, unilateral in 52 patients and bilateral in 21 patients, we measured maximum nodule diameter on CT and serum cortisol levels at 8:00 am, 60 minutes after the adrenocorticotropic hormone stimulation test, and after the dexamethasone suppression test. We also studied 34 age-, sex-, and body mass index–matched control subjects. Statistics used were Spearman correlation coefficients, t tests, ANOVA test, and multivariate analysis. RESULTS. The mean maximum diameter of unilateral nodules measured on CT was larger on the right (2.47 ± 0.98 [SD] cm) than on the left (2.04 ± 0.86 cm) (p = 0.01). In the bilateral cases, the mean diameter of the right nodules was 2.69 ± 0.93 cm compared with 2.13 ± 0.89 cm on the left (p = 0.06). Mean baseline serum cortisol level was significantly higher in the patients with incidentalomas (bilateral, 13.1 ± 4.5 mcg/dL [p < 0.001]; unilateral, 9.7 ± 3.2 mcg/dL [p = 0.019]) than in the control subjects (7.5 ± 3.6 mcg/dL). After dexamethasone suppression test, serum cortisol levels were suppressed to less than 1.8 mcg/dL in 100% of control subjects, 33% of patients with bilateral incidentalomas, and 62% of patients with unilateral incidentalomas (p < 0.001). There were significant correlations between maximum nodule diameter on CT and serum cortisol levels after the dexamethasone suppression test (ρ = 0.500; p < 0.001) and at baseline (ρ = 0.373; p = 0.003). CONCLUSION. Increasing size of adrenal nodules is associated with more severe hypercortisolism and less dexamethasone suppression; these cases need further evaluation and possibly surgery because of increased risks of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular mortality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)800-807
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Roentgenology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2020


  • Adrenal MRI
  • Adrenal incidentalomas
  • Adrenocortical nodules
  • Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) stimulation test
  • CT scan
  • Dexamethasone suppression test
  • Mass spectrometry
  • Serum cortisol
  • Subclinical hypercortisolism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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