Adrenal Gland Cancer

What is Adrenal Gland Cancer?

Adrenal cancer is a condition that occurs when abnormal cells form in or travel to the adrenal glands. Your body has two adrenal glands, one located above each kidney. Adrenal cancer usually occurs in the outermost layer of the glands, or the adrenal cortex and generally appears as a tumor.

A cancerous tumor of the adrenal gland is called an adrenal cortical carcinoma. A noncancerous tumor of the adrenal gland is called a benign adenoma.

Benign Adenoma

Benign adenomas are relatively small, usually less than 5cm in diameter. Most individuals with this type of tumor have no symptoms. These tumors usually occur on only one adrenal gland, however in rare instances, they may appear on both glands.

Adrenal Cortical Carcinoma 

Adrenal Cortical Carcinomas are usually much larger than benign adenomas. If a tumor is more than 5cm in diameter, it is more likely to be cancerous. Sometimes, they can grow large enough to press on your organs, leading to further symptoms. They can also produce hormones that cause changes in the body.

Symptoms 

Symptoms of adrenal cancer are caused by the excessive production of hormones. These are typically androgen, estrogen, cortisol, and aldosterone. However, symptoms may also arise from large tumors pressing on other organs in the body.

In around half the people with adrenal cancer, symptoms do not appear until the tumor is large enough to press on other organs. Women who have tumors with increased androgen may notice facial hair growth or deepening of the voice. Men who have tumors with increase estrogen may notice breast enlargement or breast tenderness. In these cases, diagnosing a tumor becomes more difficult. 

Symptoms of adrenal cancer that produces excess cortisol and aldosterone in adults can include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High blood sugar (hyperglycemia) 
  • Weight gain
  • Irregular periods
  • Easy bruising
  • Depression
  • Urinary Frequency
  • Muscle cramps

Diagnosis

Diagnosing adrenal cancer usually begins with a consultation to review your medical history, a physical exam a referral for a blood and urine specimen for testing.

Further tests may ordered, such as:

  • Image-guided fine needle biopsy
  • Ultrasound
  • CT scan
  • PET scan 
  • MRI scan
  • Adrenal Angiography

Treatment

Surgery

Your doctor may recommend a procedure called an adrenalectomy, which involves removing the adrenal gland. If the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, your surgeon may also remove nearby lymph nodes and tissue.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells and stop new cancer cells from growing.

Chemotherapy

Depending on the stage of your cancer, you may need to undergo chemotherapy. This form of cancer drug therapy helps stop the growth of cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be administered orally or injected into a vein or muscle.

Your doctor may combine chemotherapy with other types of cancer treatments.

Other treatments

Ablation, or the destruction of tumor cells, may be necessary for tumors that are unsafe to remove surgically.