What is adrenal cancer?
Adrenal cancer occurs when abnormal cells form or metastasize (spread) to the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are located above each kidney. Adrenal cancer usually appears as a tumor and forms in the adrenal cortex, which is the outermost layer of adrenal glands.
The adrenal cortex makes certain hormones that regulate functions of the body. Most of the time, cancer found in the adrenal glands did not originate there but started in a different organ. Cancers that can spread to adrenal glands include lung cancers, melanomas and breast cancers.
What are the different types of adrenal cancer?
Adrenal cancers affect people differently, depending on the type of cancer. There are three common types of adrenal cancer including:
- Adrenocortical carcinoma: This is the most common type of adrenal cancer. It forms in the outer layer of the cortex and is typically discovered when the tumor grows and causes a feeling of fullness.
- Pheochromocytoma: This type of adrenal cancer forms from cells that produce adrenaline. Adrenaline helps regulate blood pressure and heart rate. Some symptoms include high blood pressure and anxiety.
- Neuroblastoma: This type of adrenal cancer is found in infants and children. About one in three neuroblastomas begin in the adrenal glands. Neuroblastoma spreads quickly.
What are the symptoms of adrenal cancer?
Adrenal cancer symptoms might not seem serious at first but if you are concerned about any of the following symptoms, talk to your doctor. Many of these symptoms can be the result of other conditions, not just adrenal cancer.
- A fever
- A noticeable lump in the abdomen
- A persistent pain
- Unexplained weight-loss
- A feeling of fullness
What are the risk factors and causes of adrenal cancers?
Lifestyle and environmental factors such as diet, smoking and sedentary habits can increase a person's risk for developing cancer. Although most adrenal cancers are not the result of a genetic condition, this can be the case when children develop adrenal cancer.
There are several syndromes that can increase a person's risk for developing adrenal cancer including:
- Multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN1)
- Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
How is adrenal cancer diagnosed and treated?
To diagnose adrenal cancer, a physician will consider your medical history, your family's medical history and run several diagnostic tests including imaging tests such as a chest x-ray or ultrasound. Testing hormone levels is an important part of diagnosing adrenal cancer, so your physician will likely take urine and blood samples to screen for abnormal levels of cortisol, aldosterone, androgen and estrogen.
Your doctors and specialists will design an adrenal cancer treatment plan to fight your cancer. They will take into consideration the type and stage of your cancer, your lifestyle and other factors. Surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and other drugs will likely be a part of your adrenal cancer treatment plan.