Adrenal Tumors

The adrenal glands are located above the kidneys and secrete a variety of hormones that regulate your body. These hormones help control blood pressure, heart rate, sex hormone production, and the regulation of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Major problems can occur when the adrenal glands produce too many or too few hormones. While many growths in the adrenal gland are non-cancerous, it may be necessary to remove one of the adrenal glands in order to correct hormone imbalance. The adrenal glands can also develop cancerous growths that may require surgical removal.

Symptoms

Cancerous growths on the adrenal gland often produce no symptoms at all. Benign adrenal tumors may produce excess levels of any number of different hormones therefore symptoms can vary. These may include:

  • Uncontrolled high blood pressure
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Excess body hair
  • Osteoporosis and diabetes
  • Nervousness, anxiety, and tremor
  • Salt and potassium abnormalities

Diagnosis and Staging

Following a thorough history and physical examination, your doctor may order additional imaging and lab tests including:

  • CT Scan, MRI or ultrasound
  • Urine studies
  • Blood tests
  • X-ray or bone scan
  • Needle biopsy of the mass in some circumstances

The stage of adrenal cancer is determined by the size of the primary tumor, the degree of local invasion, and whether it has spread to regional lymph nodes or distant sites. You can read more about adrenal cancer staging here.

Treatment

Treatment will depend on a number of factors, including your age, overall health, and degree of hormonal imbalance. When appropriate, your urologist will collaborate with other specialized doctors to provide one or more of the following:

Surgery – this may be recommended if the tumor is thought to be cancerous or is producing a hormone imbalance. The surgery is usually performed laparoscopically, where several small incisions replace one larger one to incision resulting in less pain and a faster recovery.

Observation – some growths in the adrenal gland are non-cancerous and produce no hormone imbalance. These are called non-functioning adenomas and can often be monitored over time without the need for intervention.

Medications – after removal of an overactive adrenal gland, you may require medication to help regulate hormone levels. This is usually done by an endocrinologist (a doctor who specializes in hormone regulation) who will consult with your urologist on your treatment plan.

Follow Up

Serial imaging with CT scan or MRI and blood work may be required on a routine basis. Typically, surgical removal carries a high cure rate for cancerous growths and will likely resolve any hormone imbalance in non-cancerous tumors.

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