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An overview of the adrenal cancer: Symptoms, causes and more

  • Posted on- Aug 27, 2015
  • 285 Views

Adrenal cancers occur when cancerous cells develop and reach the adrenal glands. There are two adrenal glands situated above the kidneys. Adrenal cancer usually occurs in the outermost layer of the glands, which is called the adrenal cortex. It generally looks like a tumor.

A noncancerous tumor of the adrenal gland is different from an adrenal cancer and commonly known as a benign adenoma. These benign adenomas are small and less than 2 inches in diameter. Usually, patients with benign adenomas don’t show any symptoms. Though these tumors normally affect only one adrenal gland but can sometimes affect both.

cancerous tumor of the adrenal gland is called adrenal cortical carcinoma. These tumors are sometimes responsible for producing hormones that cause changes in the body. In certain cases, they expand and start pressurizing other body organs, causing more symptoms. It is possible for adrenal cortical carcinomas to be bigger than benign adenomas. The tumor is considered cancerous if it is more than two inches in diameter. The cancer which did not originate in the adrenal glands is not considered an adrenal cortical carcinoma.

Symptoms and Signs of Adrenal Cancer

In many cases, signs of adrenal cancer show up because of excessive production of androgen and estrogen hormones. Symptoms may also occur from large tumors pressing on other parts of the body. It is easier to spot the symptoms in children than adults because physical changes are more active and visible in puberty. Common signs of adrenal cancer in children are:
  • Excessive pubic, underarm, and facial hair growth
  • Enlarged penis
  • Enlarged clitoris
  • Large breasts in boys
  • Early puberty in girls

Signs of adrenal cancer in adult women are difficult to identify. Generally, they don’t appear till the tumor is big enough to pressurize other body organs. If adrenal tumor causes increased estrogen in men, they might experience enlargement of the breasts and tenderness. Similarly, if adrenal tumor causes increased androgen in women, they might experience facial hair growth or deepening of the voice. Some other signs include:

Presently, scientists are unaware as to what causes adrenal cancer. But research is going on a large scale to determine the reason behind adrenal cancer.

Diagnosis of Adrenal Cancer

Diagnosis of adrenal cancer starts with your medical history and a physical examination. Your doctor will take blood and urine for testing. He/She may order further tests including:

Treatment for Adrenal Cancer

If detected early, adrenal cancer is completely curable. Some of the methods followed by doctors worldwide are given below:
  • Laparoscopic adrenalectomy is a minimally-invasive procedure where the surgeon removes the tumor from the abdomen using a small camera.
  • In Trans-abdominal surgery, the surgeon makes a large cut in the abdomen to remove the tumor. He may also look for cancer in adjoining organs.
  • In Posterior surgery, an incision is made in the back for tumor removal.
  • A procedure where an incision is made in the abdomen and chest to remove a particularly large tumor is known as Thoracoabdominal surgery.
  • Chemotherapy along with radiation may be performed, if the tumor has spread to other parts of the body.

Adrenal cancer can reoccur anytime. Hence, it is important to follow-up with your doctor if you have had adrenal tumors.