Adrenal Tumors

The adrenal glands, situated above each kidney, are endocrine glands that secrete hormones into the blood to regulate metabolism and various sexual functions, and respond to emergency situations. Each gland is made up of an outer cortex and an inner medulla. Tumors in the adrenal gland are rare and usually benign, but may also be malignant. They are caused by an inherited faulty gene.

Tumors of the adrenal glands cause symptoms due to overproduction of one of the hormones that it produces or the growth of the tumour, which compresses the surrounding structures. Symptoms include weight gain or loss, limb wasting, fat accumulation in the neck and face, high blood pressure, diabetes, muscle cramps, thirst, sweating, excess urination, irritability and depression.

When you present to the clinic with the above symptoms, your doctor will review your medical history and perform a thorough physical examination. Blood and urine tests are ordered to check the levels of adrenal hormones. Imaging studies are performed to identify the tumour, its spread and the blood supply to the area. A biopsy may be performed to study a sample of suspected tissue under the microscope.

Your doctor will determine treatment depending on the size, location and spread of the tumour. Surgery may be recommended to completely remove tumors either confined to a location or those that have spread, to relieve symptoms or release pressure/blockage of enlarged tumors on surrounding structures. Tumors that have spread are usually treated by chemotherapy (cancer destroying medication) or radiotherapy (high energy radiation). These treatments may be performed to shrink the tumour, making it easy to surgically remove it or eradicate any remaining cancer cells after surgical excision. Medications to treat high blood pressure and other symptoms may also be prescribed.