The adrenal glands are located on top of the kidneys at the back of the upper abdominal cavity. These small, triangular organs produce several hormones, including aldosterone, cortisol, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, cortisone, adrenalin and norepinephrine. Tumors can cause the adrenal glands to produce too much of one or more of these substances, resulting in serious health issues. Tumors of the adrenal gland may be caused by diseases of the endocrine system, such as Conn’s syndrome, or may result in the development of endocrine diseases, such as Cushing’s syndrome. Most adrenal tumors, even those that cause symptoms, are benign.
Symptoms of Adrenal Tumors
The symptoms produced by adrenal tumors are extremely varied. These symptoms may include:
- Lump in the abdomen
- Persistent pain, pressure or fullness in the abdomen
- Unexplained change in weight
- Excess growth of facial, pubic or underarm hair
- Premature sexualization in children
- Inappropriate feminization or masculinization
- Anxiety or depression
- High blood sugar
While most adrenal tumors are not malignant, they may grow large enough to put pressure on adjacent organs like the stomach. In such cases, patients may experience a feeling of fullness and an unexplained weight loss. In the small percentage of cases when adrenal tumors are malignant, however, symptoms may not become apparent until the cancer has progressed to advanced stages.
Diagnosing Adrenal Tumors
The symptoms related to adrenal tumors are also symptoms of other conditions, often complicating the diagnosis. Definitive diagnosis necessitates a full medical examination, a urinalysis, blood tests and diagnostic imaging, such as an MRI or CT scan, to determine whether an adrenal tumor is the underlying cause of the symptoms. Frequently, adrenal tumors are discovered accidentally during imaging tests for another reason.
Treatment of Adrenal Tumors
Standard treatment of adrenal tumors is surgical removal, necessary if they are suspected of, or confirmed as, being malignant. Surgery is also required if an adrenal tumor is large or if it is causing the gland to produce an excessive amount of a hormone. An adrenalectomy is usually performed laparoscopically under general anesthesia. This technique is minimally invasive, reducing postsurgical pain, scarring and recovery time. Because the adrenal glands are so small, if a tumor does require surgical removal, the affected gland is typically removed as well.
When an adrenal tumor is diagnosed as a benign growth, known as an adrenal adenoma, it may not necessitate any treatment except periodic monitoring.