Adrenal Disease & Cancer

Overview

Adrenal Tumors

A tumor begins when normal cells change and grows abnormally, forming a mass. A tumor can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous, meaning it can spread to or from other parts of the body).

An adrenal gland tumor can sometimes overproduce hormones. When it does, the tumor is called a functioning tumor. An adrenal gland tumor that does not produce hormones is called a non-functioning tumor. The symptoms and treatment of an adrenal gland tumor depend on whether the tumor is functioning or non-functioning, and what hormone(s) is overproduced.

Adenoma is the most common type of adrenal gland tumor. It is a noncancerous tumor that usually does not cause symptoms, and, if it is small, often does not need treatment.

Adrenal Cancer

Cancer of the adrenal gland itself is extremely rare and occurs in about one person per million in this country. It accounts for less than 5% of adrenal tumors. Adrenocortical carcinoma can be a functioning or non-functioning tumor. If the tumor is functioning, it may produce one or more hormone. A tumor can start in an adrenal gland (called a primary adrenal tumor) or it can begin in another organ, such as the lungs, and then metastasize (spread) to the adrenal glands. General symptoms include fever, abdominal pain, weight loss and a mass that you can feel. Increased hormone levels can cause an increase in heart rate, potentially high blood pressure and blood sugar, excess hair growth,bruising, increased thirst and frequent urination.

 

Treatments

Once the appropriate diagnosis is made, recommendations regarding observation with follow up, treatment with medication or surgical intervention will be made. The majority of patients requiring removal of their adrenal tumor are candidates for minimally invasive surgery using laparoscopy. This procedure is performed under general anesthetic and 3-4 small incisions, each measuring ¼ to ½ inch, are made for introduction of a camera and miniature instruments for removal of the abnormal gland. Patients may often be discharged from the hospital the day following the procedure. Rarely an open technique is required for the removal of the diseased gland. Depending on the indication for adrenalectomy, it is often necessary to have certain factors such as the blood pressure monitored closely postoperatively. The full effect of the operation on alleviating symptoms is not always immediately apparent and changes in medication will need to be made with the assistance of other specialists.