Adrenal Tumors Urologist - Dr. Angelo Gousse, MD
Adrenal glands are small glands shaped like a rectangle that rest on the top of your kidneys. The purpose of the adrenal glands is to generate hormones to manage your blood pressure, immune system, metabolism, and other critical bodily functions. In other words, the adrenal glands send instructions or messages to the various tissues and organs throughout the body. These instructions dictate how to function or respond to different stressors or occurrences in the body.
If you were to develop tumors in your adrenal glands, it could cause many health problems in the body. Fortunately, it is rare for people to get adrenal tumors, so you’ll have great odds of avoiding them altogether. But if you ever do get adrenal tumors, then it won’t take you long to notice their symptoms.
There are two types of adrenal tumors: pheochromocytoma and cancerous tumors. The more commonly experienced adrenal tumor is pheochromocytoma. It is a tumor that forms in the middle of the adrenal gland, causing an abundance of adrenaline to be produced. All of this adrenaline can raise your blood pressure to dangerously high levels.
The United States has roughly 800 confirmed cases of pheochromocytoma each year. It may not seem like many cases compared to the national population, but it is enough to cause doctors to worry. If you develop pheochromocytoma in your adrenal glands, excessively high blood pressure could easily lead to a heart attack or stroke. In addition, you may also experience excessive sweating, palpitations, and headaches. Unfortunately, there is no telling how long these symptoms will last each time they occur.
If cancerous tumors form in the adrenal glands, it will accelerate hormone production severely. Then you could experience any number of uncomfortable or painful symptoms. Some symptoms might include nausea, weight gain, fever, vomiting, muscle weakness, loss of appetite, back pain, increased breast tissue (men), or increased facial hair growth (women).
No more than 300 to 500 people get cancerous tumors in their adrenal glands annually. Therefore, it is much more likely for you to develop pheochromocytoma. As bad as that might seem, at least pheochromocytoma is a noncancerous adrenal tumor. So you’ll have a better chance of eliminating it and avoiding severe illness.
There are three ways to detect adrenal cancer. The first way is with a blood or urine test in a laboratory. It is the simplest method for the patient because it doesn’t take much time or effort to give blood or urine to the nurse. Next, the doctor will look for evidence of excessive hormonal levels in the blood and urine. So if they see high amounts of androgens, cortisol, or aldosterone, it could signify cancer in the adrenal glands.
Another way to detect adrenal tumors is with imaging tests, such as a CT scan, positron emission scan, or an MRI. These imaging tests can not only detect the existence of cancer growth in the adrenal glands, but they can also see whether the growth has spread to different parts of the body.
If your adrenal tumors are noncancerous or in the early stages of cancer, the doctor may prescribe medications to control their growth. But you will definitely need to get surgery to remove the tumors at some point. The doctor may want to do the surgery first and then prescribe medication afterward to ensure the tumors don’t grow back.
Cancerous tumors must be removed from the adrenal glands entirely. This will require the doctor to remove portions of the adrenal gland which has signs of cancer growth. And if the cancer cells have already spread to other organs of the body, such as the kidneys, then portions of them may have to get surgically removed as well.
You can prevent the spread of cancer through radiation therapy. This therapy uses protons, X-rays, or other powerful energy beams to eliminate cancer cells. It is an effective way to reduce pain and discomfort while stopping the spread of cancer to other parts of the body.
It is much easier to cure pheochromocytoma with surgery than cancer. Because even if cancerous tumors are removed, they can come back again. That is why regular medications and radiation therapy are required to prevent more cancer growth.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do adrenal tumors grow in both adrenal glands together or one gland at a time?
It is possible to have an adrenal tumor grow in one adrenal gland. However, you can usually expect to see tumors growing in both glands simultaneously.
Will I be okay with one healthy adrenal gland?
Yes, your body can continue to produce a healthy flow of hormones with one adrenal gland. You could end up with one gland if you had to get a troubled gland removed.