Adrenal Cancer

About Adrenal Cancer

Adrenal cancer is a rare cancer that begins in adrenal glands located on top of your kidneys. The adrenal glands are part of the endocrine system, which releases hormones into the blood system. Adrenal cancer usually occurs in the outermost layer of the glands or the adrenal cortex. It generally appears as a tumor.

The adrenal glands have an inner and outer layer:

  1. Adrenal cortex – outer layer
  2. Adrenal medulla – inner layer

 1) Adrenal Cortex

The adrenal cortex produces three main types of steroid hormones :Mineralocorticoids,Glucocorticoids and Androgens.

It makes hormones that impact blood pressure, metabolism and how the body uses fats, carbohydrates and proteins.

2) Adrenal Medulla

The medulla produces the Catecholamine, Adrenaline and Noradrenalne.

These “stress hormones” increase alertness, strength and speed in an emergency. They also affect heart rate, blood pressure and sweating.

Adrenal Cancer Risk Factors

Doctors do not currently know why adrenal tumors form.Some genetic syndromes considered risk factors for adrenal cancer include:

  • Li-Fraumeni syndrome
  • Von Hippel-Lindau disease
  • Multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 and 2 (MEN1, MEN2)
  • Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome

Adrenal Cancer Symptoms

Symptoms that do develop vary depending on the stage of the tumor and the kind of hormone secreted. Warning signs are often not obvious or seem unrelated, making diagnosis difficult in the early stages of adrenal cancer.

If your tumor makes too much cortisol or aldosterone  you might have:

  • High blood pressure
  • High blood sugar
  • Thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Muscle cramps
  • Weight gain
  • Muscle wasting
  • Fat accumulation in the base of the neck
  • Swelling of the face
  • Abnormal hair growth on the face, arms and upper back

If your tumor makes too much sex hormone:

  • Female: changes of the voice,changes in periods,baldness or growth of facial hair
  • Male: loss of sex drive (libido),impotence and sometimes swelling of the breasts

Some patient with adrenal cancer also have symptoms related to tumor growth, such as:

  • abdominal pain
  • sensation of abdomen fullness
  • feeling full after eating very little

 Adrenal Cancer Types

There are three common types of adrenal cancer:

Adreno Cortical Carcinoma(ACC): It is also called  adrenal cortex cancer.this is the most common form of adrenal occurs in adrenal cortex(outer layers).

Pheochromocytoma: This type of adrenal cancer forms in the central part of the medulla and typically originates from adrenaline-producing cells.

Neuroblastoma: Found in immature  nerve cells of the medulla, this type of adrenal cancer usually affects infants or children and younger.

Diagnosis of Adrenal Cancer

Blood and Urine Test :

for irregular levels of adrenal hormones. These tests may detect adrenal cancer before symptoms develop.

Imaging Tests:

1) CT Scan

A computed tomography (CT) scan is an imaging test that uses a computer to put a series of x-ray images together to create detailed 3D images of organs, tissues, bones and blood vessels in the body.It is used to determine if surgery is a viable treatment option for adrenal cancer.

2) MRI Scan

A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is an imaging test that uses powerful magnetic forces, radio frequency (RF) waves and a computer to make detailed 3-dimensional pictures of the organs, bones and tissues inside your body.It’s helps distinguish between normal and abnormal tissue.


This test may be useful in determining whether an adrenal tumor is likely to be benign or cancerous, as well as whether the cancer has spread outside the adrenal glands.


In this procedure, a tumor tissue sample is examined under a microscope. A biopsy is typically only performed on tumors outside the adrenal glands.

Adrenal Cancer Treatments


Surgery is used to treat all stages of adrenal cancer.The medical term for this procedure is adrenalectomy .It is a surgical procedure performed to remove tumors of the adrenal glands including:

  • Benign tumors and cysts
  • Malignant primary tumors
  • Metastatic tumors that have spread from other organs of the body.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy also called radiotherapy.Radiation therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses beams of intense energy to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.Radiation therapy most often uses X-rays, but protons or other types of energy also can be used.

Radiation therapy is often used along with chemotherapy.At high doses, radiation therapy kills cancer cells or slows their growth by damaging their DNA. Cancer cells whose DNA is damaged beyond repair stop dividing or die. When the damaged cells die, they are broken down and removed by the body.

it often causes side effects. These are different for each person. Some common side effects are fatigue, dry mouth,nausea, vomiting, pain, and hair loss.


Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. In general, normal cells grow and die in a controlled way. Cancer cells keep growing without control. It stopping them from spreading, or slowing their growth.

Chemotherapy is often used along with radiation therapy and surgery  in treating cancers. It may be used before surgery to shrink a tumour or after surgery to destroy any cancer cells that remain and to prevent the cancer from coming back. Chemotherapy may also be used to relieve symptoms, improve quality of life and extend life for people with advanced cancer

Chemotherapy drugs kill cancer cells, but they can also damage healthy cells.Some common side effects are fatigue, nausea, vomiting, pain, and hair loss.

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