What is Adrenal Gland Tumor?

An adrenal gland tumor is cancerous or non-cancerous growths on the adrenal glands. The cause of most of these tumors is unknown. You can find more information below.

What is an adrenal gland tumor?

An adrenal gland tumor, also known as adrenal cancer or adrenal tumor, is a condition that occurs when abnormal cells form in the adrenal glands and become cancerous.

Your body has two adrenal glands, one on each kidney. Adrenal cancer usually occurs in the outermost layer of the glands or the adrenal cortex, and usually as a tumor.

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

If cancer is present in the adrenal glands, but did not originate there, it is not considered adrenal cortical carcinoma. Cancers of the breast, stomach, kidney, skin , and lymphoma are likely to spread to the adrenal glands.

Benign adenomas

Benign adenomas are relatively small, usually less than 2 inches in diameter. Most people with this type of tumor have no symptoms. These tumors usually only occur in one adrenal gland, but in rare cases they can occur in both glands.

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Adrenal cortical carcinomas

Adrenal cortical carcinomas are usually much larger than benign adenomas. If a tumor is more than 2 inches in diameter, it is more likely to be cancerous. Sometimes, it can get big enough to put pressure on your organs and cause more symptoms. They can also produce hormones that sometimes cause changes in the body.

What causes an adrenal gland tumor?

It occurs when an adrenal tumor creates a change (mutations) in the DNA of an adrenal gland cell. A cell’s DNA contains instructions that tell a cell what to do.

Mutations can tell the cell to multiply uncontrollably and continue living when healthy cells would die. When this happens, abnormal cells build up and form a tumor. Tumor cells can break down and spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.

Who is at risk?

At this point, scientists don’t know what causes adrenal cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, about 15 percent of adrenal cancers are caused by a genetic disorder. Certain conditions can increase your risk of developing adrenal cancer.

These are:

  • Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome , an abnormal growth disorder characterized by a large body and organs . Individuals with this syndrome are also at risk for kidney and liver cancer.
  • Li-Fraumeni syndrome , an inherited disease that causes an increased risk for many types of cancer .
  • Familial adenomatous polyposis , an inherited condition characterized by a high number of polyps in the large intestines that puts them at risk for colon cancer .
  • Multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 , an inherited condition, is the cause of the development of many tumors, both benign (benign) and malignant (malignant), in tissues that produce hormones, such as the pituitary, parathyroid, and pancreas .
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Smoking probably increases the risk of adrenal cancer, but there is no conclusive evidence yet.

What are the symptoms of adrenal gland tumor?

Adrenal cancer symptoms are caused by excessive hormone production. These are typically androgen, estrogen, cortisol, and aldosterone. Symptoms can also be caused by large tumors pressing on the body’s organs.

Because physical changes are more active and visible during adolescence, signs of excess androgen or estrogen production are more noticeable in children than adults.

Symptoms of adrenal cancer in children may include:

  • Excessive groin, armpit and beard growth
  • an enlarged penis
  • an enlarged clitoris
  • big boobs in men
  • precocious puberty in girls

About half of people with adrenal cancer do not develop symptoms until the tumor is large enough to press on other organs.

Women with tumors that cause an increase in androgen may notice facial hair growth or a deepening of the voice.

Men with tumors that cause an increase in estrogen may notice breast enlargement or breast tenderness.

Diagnosing a tumor becomes more difficult for women with excess estrogen and men with excess androgens.

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

  • Hypertension
  • high blood sugar
  • Gaining weight
  • Irregular menstrual periods
  • skin bruising easily
  • Depression
  • frequent urination
  • muscle cramps

How is an adrenal gland tumor diagnosed?

Diagnosing adrenal cancer usually starts with your medical history and physical exam. Your doctor will also examine your blood and take a urine sample for testing.

Your doctor may also order other tests, such as:

  • Visual fine needle biopsy
  • ultrasound
  • computed tomography
  • positron emission tomography
  • MRI scan
  • Adrenal angiography

How is an adrenal gland tumor treated?

Adrenal cancer treatment usually requires surgery to remove all the cancer. Other treatments may be used to prevent the cancer from coming back or if surgery is not an option.

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Surgical treatment

The goal of surgery is to remove all adrenal cancer. To achieve this, doctors must remove all affected adrenal glands ( adrenalectomy ).

If surgeons find evidence that the cancer has spread to nearby structures such as the liver or kidney, some or all of these organs may also be removed during the operation.

Medication to reduce the risk of recurrence

An older drug used to treat advanced adrenal cancer has shown promise in delaying disease recurrence after surgery. This medication, which your doctor may prescribe, may be recommended after surgery for people at high risk of cancer recurrence.

radiation therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-powered energy beams such as X-rays and protons to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy is sometimes used after adrenal cancer surgery to kill any remaining cells. It may also help reduce pain and other symptoms of cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, such as bones.


Chemotherapy is a drug treatment that uses chemicals to kill cancer cells. For adrenal cancers that cannot be surgically removed or that have returned after initial treatments, chemotherapy may be an option to slow the progression of the cancer.

long-term outlook

If you develop adrenal cancer, a team of doctors will work with you to coordinate your care. Follow-up appointments with your doctors are important if you have had adrenal tumors in the past. Adrenal cancer can come back at any time, so it’s important to stay in close contact with your medical team.

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