Last reviewed by Dr. Raj MD on January 12th, 2022.
What is Adrenal Gland Tumor?
This is a medical condition that physicians are commonly seeing today. Most are found to be benign but unfortunately many adults that have been found to have adrenal cortical cancer is increasing each year. In the United States each year approximately three hundred adults are diagnosed with this cancer. The benign adrenal gland tumors are being found mostly in senior citizens and adults of middle age between the ages of forty-five and fifty. More women than men are diagnosed with adrenal gland tumors. Your adrenal glands are found just above your kidneys and have an important part in helping your body to deal with stress. They are also referred to as adrenal mass. When a person has an adrenal gland tumor, it is considered functioning if it is producing an excessive hormones and non-functioning if it is not.
There are two primary types of adrenal gland tumors.
- Adenoma – this is the most common type and is non-functioning and non-cancerous and appears in your adrenal cortex. If it is a small tumor it will usually not exhibit any symptoms and will not need treatment.
- Adrenocortical carcinoma – it is rare to have this type of adrenal gland tumor and is cancerous. It starts in your adrenal cortex also and can be non-functioning or functioning.
Adrenal Gland Tumor Symptoms
When you have an adrenal gland tumor it can manifest in the form of these symptoms and signs. There are also some people who do not have any symptoms at all.
- Having high blood pressure
- Having a low level of potassium
- Heart palpitations
- Panic attacks, anxiety
- Appearing over-nervous
- Adrenal fatigue and weakness
- Perspiration that is excessive
- Pain in your abdomen that can be severe and may radiate toward your thighs and back.
- Weight loss or gain that is unexplainable
- Abdominal stretch marks
- Hair growth that is excessive
- Unusual acne
- Change in your sex drive
- Feeling bloated or full even if your stomach is empty
- High fever
Most adrenal gland tumors happen because of an imbalance of hormone secretion within your medulla or cortex of your adrenal gland. When there is an excessive secretion of hormones it can trigger the formation of a tumor. This in turn will trigger the production of excessive steroid hormones, which are catecholamine and aldosterone. When there is a family history of having adrenal gland tumors you are at risk of developing one yourself.
In order to diagnosis if you have an adrenal gland tumor your physician will do a physical exam and take your family medical history to see if you are at risk for developing an adrenal gland tumor. They will also have urine and blood tests done to look for certain substances in either of them that could indicate if cancer is present. If your physician does not find any evidence that there is cancer, and if there is cancer that it has not spread from your adrenal gland to some other part of your body they can do a MRI or CT scan to make a positive diagnosis. They may also do a biopsy to determine just what type of tumor or cancer it is to help your physician to decide on the best and most effective method of treatment.
Depending on whether it is benign or cancerous, there are several ways in which an adrenal gland tumor can be treated. It can treated with medical therapy, surgery, radiation or chemotherapy or a combination of any of these methods of treatment. If a person has to have the adrenal gland tumor surgically removed it is called an adrenalectomy. If it shows that the tumor is smaller than five centimeters and non-cancerous they can do laparoscopic surgery. Either of these surgeries can be done through the abdomen or back depending on where the tumor is located.
Chemotherapy is the treatment that is preferred if it is found to be malignant to kill the tumor cells. Depending on the spread of the malignancy and the stage it is in, they may opt to use radiation therapy, which is using x-rays that are high energy or other particles, to kill the tumor cells. With either of these two treatments you may experience side effects that can include:
- Risk of infection
- Loss of appetite
As part of the post-treatment your physician will do regular physical examinations and medical treatments. The risk of developing a tumor in other healthy glands if ten percent or more if you have had or have an existing tumor on your adrenal gland so this is why it is very important to have continual follow-up. Your physician wants to monitor your recovery and be able to detect any new adrenal gland tumors or other tumors should there be any new growths.
If it is determined that you have an adrenal gland tumor that is benign it is important to have immediate treatment to help prevent it from becoming adrenal gland cancer. If it is determined that your adrenal gland tumor is benign your physician may prescribe medications that can help to control the overactive adrenal gland to help reduce the amount of hormones your adrenal gland is producing so it will not be an excessive amount. You may also be prescribed medications to help with the symptoms that could occur such as high blood pressure, panic attacks, diabetes, etc.