Biochemical testing for pheochromocytoma by measurement of fractionated plasma metanephrines is limited by false positive rates of up to 18% in people without known genetic predisposition to the disease. The plasma normetanephrine fraction is responsible for most false positives and plasma normetanephrine increases with age. The objective of this study was to determine if we could improve the specificity of fractionated plasma measurements, by statistically adjusting for age.
An age-adjusted metanephrine score was derived using logistic regression from 343 subjects (including 33 people with pheochromocytoma) who underwent fractionated plasma metanephrine measurements as part of investigations for suspected pheochromocytoma at Mayo Clinic Rochester (derivation set). The performance of the age-adjusted score was validated in a dataset of 158 subjects (including patients 23 with pheochromocytoma) that underwent measurements of fractionated plasma metanephrines at Mayo Clinic the following year (validation dataset). None of the participants in the validation dataset had known genetic predisposition to pheochromocytoma.
The sensitivity of the age-adjusted metanephrine score was the same as that of traditional interpretation of fractionated plasma metanephrine measurements, yielding a sensitivity of 100% (23/23, 95% confidence interval [CI] 85.7%, 100%). However, the false positive rate with traditional interpretation of fractionated plasma metanephrine measurements was 16.3% (22/135, 95% CI, 11.0%, 23.4%) and that of the age-adjusted score was significantly lower at 3.0% (4/135, 95% CI, 1.2%, 7.4%) (p < 0.001 using McNemar's test).
An adjustment for age in the interpretation of results of fractionated plasma metanephrines may significantly decrease false positives when using this test to exclude sporadic pheochromocytoma. Such improvements in false positive rate may result in savings of expenditures related to confirmatory imaging.