Adrenal gland tumours

The adrenal glands are part of the endocrine system, which refers to a network of glands that produce hormones responsible for various tasks in the body. There are two adrenal glands, each located above a kidney. They produce a variety of vital hormones essential for wellbeing and survival.

The adrenal glands consists of two parts; the outer part known as the cortex, and the inner part called the medulla. The development of a tumour in the adrenal glands usually causes excessive production of a particular hormone, depending on the part of the adrenal gland affected by the tumour. Usually only one adrenal gland is affected, and it’s very rare for a tumour to develop in both glands.

Causes of Adrenal Tumours

The exact cause of adrenal tumours is not known, but a higher risk has been observed in people suffering from a rare, hereditary condition known as multiple endocrine neoplasia.

Symptoms of Adrenal Gland Tumours

The symptoms of adrenal tumours will depend on the hormone being overproduced. Even a benign tumour that does not produce a high level of hormones may cause problems over time as it grows and puts pressure on surrounding organs, which can cause pain.

Other symptoms may include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart palpitations
  • Nervousness
  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Headache
  • Excessive sweating
  • Diabetes
  • Abdominal pain
  • Unexplained weight gain or weight loss
  • Feeling of tiredness or weakness
  • Abdominal stretch marks
  • Excessive hair growth
  • Changes in genitalia
  • Unusual acne
  • Change in sex drive

Treatment for adrenal tumours

Your doctor might recommend treatment based on a number of factors, such as the type and size of the tumour, and whether or not it has spread. Treatment options include:

Hormone Therapy- The doctor may recommend several drugs to control the levels of hormones being produced. This may be taken independently, or with other treatments.

Chemotherapy –The doctor can also prescribe drugs to destroy tumour cells, usually by stopping the cells’ ability to grow and divide.

Radiation therapy- they may also use high energy x-rays or other particles to destroy tumour cells, even though this is very rarely done.

Surgery- If the tumour has not spread to other areas, or the spread is very minimal, you may opt for surgical removal of the tumour. If the tumour can be completely removed, other treatments afterwards are usually not necessary.

The type of surgery your doctor recommends depends on the size and location of the tumour. In most cases, adrenal tumours can be removed by keyhole technique, ie. through small puncture holes on your tummy. Open surgery may be required for larger, cancerous tumours. Sometimes the affected adrenal gland and kidney may also need to be removed.