What is adrenal cancer?
Adrenal cancer is a rare cancer that begins in the small, triangular glands (adrenal glands) located on top of your kidneys. Adrenal glands produce hormones that give instructions to virtually every organ and tissue in your body.
Adrenal cancer is often aggressive. When found early, there is a chance for cure. But if the cancer has spread to areas beyond the adrenal gland, cure becomes less likely. Treatment can be used to delay progression or recurrence.
Not all growths that form in the adrenal glands are cancer. Noncancerous (benign) adrenal tumors, such as adenoma or pheochromocytoma, also can develop in the adrenal glands.
How common is adrenal cancer?
Adrenal cancer, also called adrenocortical cancer, can occur at any age. But it’s most likely to affect children younger than 5 and adults in their 40s and 50s. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of adrenal cancer?
Symptoms of adrenal cancer are caused by the excess production of the hormones. These are typically androgen, estrogen, cortisol, and aldosterone. Symptoms may also arise from large tumors pressing on organs of the body.
Symptoms of excessive androgen or estrogen production are easier to spot in children than adults because physical changes are more active and visible during puberty. Some signs of adrenal cancer in children can be:
- Excessive pubic, underarm, and facial hair growth
- An enlarged penis
- An enlarged clitoris
- Large breasts in boys
- Early puberty in girls
In about half the people with adrenal cancer symptoms don’t appear until the tumor is large enough to press on other organs. Women with tumors that cause increases in androgen may notice facial hair growth or deepening of the voice. Men with tumors that cause increases in estrogen may notice breast enlargement or breast tenderness. If the excess hormones are typically found in that person, like estrogen in women and androgen in men, diagnosing the tumor becomes more difficult.
Some other symptoms of adrenal cancer that produce excess cortisol and aldosterone in adults can include:
- High blood pressure
- High blood sugar
- Weight gain
- Irregular periods
- Easy bruising
- Frequent urination
- Muscle cramps
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes adrenal cancer?
At this point, scientists don’t know what causes adrenal cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, about 85% of adrenal cancers happen for unknown reasons. About 15% of these cancers are caused by a genetic disorder.
What increases my risk for adrenal cancer?
There are many risk factors for adrenal cancer, such as:
- Beckwith-wiedemann syndrome, which is an abnormal growth disorder marked by a large body and organs; individuals with this syndrome are also at risk for cancer of the kidney and liver
- Li-fraumeni syndrome, which is an inherited disorder that causes an increased risk for many types of cancers
- Familial adenomatous polyposis (fap), which is an inherited condition characterized by large numbers of polyps in the large intestines that also carries a high risk of colon cancer
- Multiple endocrine neoplasia (men1), which is an inherited condition that causes many tumors to develop, both benign and malignant, in tissues that produce hormones like the pituitary, parathyroid and pancreas
- Smoking likely also increases the risk of adrenal cancer, but there’s no conclusive proof yet.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is adrenal cancerdiagnosed?
Diagnosing adrenal cancer usually begins with your medical history and a physical exam. Your doctor will also draw blood and collect a urine sample for testing.
Your doctor may order further tests such as:
- An image-guided fine needle biopsy
- An ultrasound
- A ct scan
- A positron emission tomography (pet) scan
- An mri scan
- An adrenal angiography
How is adrenal cancertreated?
Early treatment can sometimes cure adrenal cancer. There are currently three major types of standard treatment for adrenal cancer:
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.
This treatment uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells and stop new cancer cells from growing.
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.
Ablation, or the destruction of tumor cells, may be necessary for tumors where it is unsafe to remove them surgically
Mitotane is the most common drug used in the treatment of adrenal cancer. In some cases it is given after surgery. It can block excessive hormone production and can may help decrease the size of the tumor.
You can also discuss clinical trial treatments with your doctor, such of biologic therapy, which uses the immune system to fight cancer cells.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage adrenal cancer?
Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: September 12, 2017 | Last Modified: December 8, 2019
Adrenal Cancer. http://www.healthline.com/health/adrenal-cancer#overview1. Accessed September 12, 2017.
Adrenal cancer. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/adrenal-cancer/home/ovc-20165296. Accessed September 12, 2017.