Adrenal Tumors

The term adrenal tumor can refer to one of several benign and malignant neoplasms of the adrenal gland, several of which are notable for their tendency to overproduce endocrine hormones. There are two adrenal glands, one on top of each kidney toward the back. Tumors of the adrenal glands are rare. However, when present, they can cause a many problems by excess secretion of certain adrenal-produced hormones. Adrenal cancer specifically refers to malignant adrenal tumors, which include neuroblastoma, adrenocortical carcinoma, and a minority of adrenal pheochromocytomas. Most adrenal pheochromocytomas and all adrenocortical adenomas are benign tumors, which do not metastasize or invade nearby tissues, but which may still cause significant health problems by giving rise to hormonal imbalances.

Symptoms and Signs

People with an adrenal gland tumor may experience the following symptoms or signs. Sometimes, people with an adrenal gland tumor do not show any of these symptoms. Or, these symptoms may be caused by a medical condition that is not a tumor. If you are concerned about a symptom or sign on this list, please talk to your doctor.

  • High blood pressure
  • Low potassium level
  • Heart palpitations
  • Nervousness
  • Anxiety (panic attacks)
  • Headache
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Diabetes
  • Abdominal pain
  • Unexplained weight gain or weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Abdominal stretch marks
  • Excessive hair growth
  • Unusual acne
  • Change in libido (sex drive)

Treatment for Adrenal Tumors

Specific treatment for adrenal tumors will be determined by your physician based on:

  • your age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the disease
  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the disease
  • your opinion or preference

Treatment may include one or more of the following:

Laparoscopic Adrenalectomy: Adrenalectomy, which is the surgical removal of the adrenal gland with the tumor, may be needed to treat an adrenal gland tumor. A surgical endocrinologist is a surgeon who specializes in treating an endocrine tumor using surgery. If the tumor is smaller than 5 cm and, based on size or the way it looks on imaging scans, shows no evidence that it is cancerous, then laparoscopic surgery may be possible. Laparoscopic surgery is a minimally invasive technique in which a surgeon uses a lighted, flexible, tube instrument and makes small incisions in the skin; the technique minimizes pain and post-operative recovery time compared with traditional incisions. It may be performed from the abdomen or back, depending on the location of the tumor and the experience of the surgeon. However, if the tumor is possibly cancerous or larger than 5 cm to 6 cm, surgery using one large incision in the abdomen or back is recommended. If the patient previously had abdominal surgery, an incision in the back may be easier.

External radiation (external beam therapy): It is a treatment that precisely sends high levels of radiation directly to the cancer cells. The machine is controlled by the radiation therapist. Since radiation is used to kill cancer cells and to shrink tumors, special shields may be used to protect the tissue surrounding the treatment area. Radiation treatments are painless and usually last a few minutes.

Chemotherapy: This is the use of anticancer drugs to treat cancerous cells. In most cases, chemotherapy works by interfering with the cancer cell’s ability to grow or reproduce. Different groups of drugs work in different ways to fight cancer cells. The oncologist will recommend a treatment plan for each individual.