What are Adrenal Tumors?

Rachel Burkot

Adrenal tumors are tumors of the adrenal glands that arise from the cortex or the medulla, two parts of the glands. Adrenal tumors are formed when excess secretions of hormones occur. The adrenal cortex can produce an excess of aldosterone and steroid hormones, and the adrenal medulla can produce too many catecholamines. These excess secretions form adrenal tumors, which can be either benign or malignant, but it can be difficult to distinguish between the two.

An adrenal gland on top of a kidney.
An adrenal gland on top of a kidney.

The two adrenal glands are located just above the kidneys and help to protect the body against stress. Many different hormones are secreted by these glands to aid in this function, but when the secretion is carried out to excess, tumors can form. The adrenal cortex is the outer part of the gland that produces steroid hormones and aldosterone, which together regular body functions and the amounts of salt and water in the body. The adrenal medulla is the inner part of the gland which produces adrenaline and noradrenalin, together called catecholamines, which help the body respond to sudden or severe stress. Catecholamines regulate perspiration, the widening of the eyes and shakiness during stressful situations.

A CT scan a few times a year can monitor the presence of adrenal tumors.
A CT scan a few times a year can monitor the presence of adrenal tumors.

Adrenal tumors usually become present through either a CT scan or the presentation of symptoms. A CT scan of the abdomen can be performed for many different reasons, and an unsuspected adrenal tumor can be caught if the adrenal gland is swollen. Additionally, this gland may cause symptoms due to the excess secretion of hormones from the tumor.

Adrenal tumors can be treated by observation if the tumors are small and the symptoms mild. A CT scan twice a year can monitor small tumors, but those over four centimeters should be removed. Benign tumors under ten centimeters can be removed by laparoscopic surgery, in which small incisions are made into the abdomen, and long tubes called ports are inserted. When the tumor is thought to be cancerous, an open adrenalectomy, the removal of an adrenal gland, is recommended. When adrenal disease is present in both glands, a laparoscopic removal of both adrenal glands should occur.

An adrenal gland can be removed for reasons other than tumors of the cortex, medulla or adrenal gland. Adrenal cancer or an adrenal mass that causes pain or tenderness should result in the removal of one or both adrenal glands. Adrenal cancer is an aggressive cancer that often invades nearby organs such as the abdominal cavity, lungs, liver and bones. Another adrenal problem is Addison’s disease, which is caused by the lack of cortisol production by the adrenal glands. As cortisol helps the body respond to stress, underproduction can have serious consequences such as fatigue, muscle weakness, low blood pressure, skin changes, depression and reproduction issues.

Benign tumors under 10 centimeters can be removed by laparoscopic surgery.
Benign tumors under 10 centimeters can be removed by laparoscopic surgery.

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Discussion Comments


Well I had gastric bypass surgery July 2015. My primary doctor got worried after I had the surgery so I had blood test done. After the surgery my kidney function test went to 50 and then I did another test a month later and it went to 35. So she had me take an ultrasound to prevent any further damage from a CT scan, and it revealed a cyst on the kidney and adrenal mass on my side. But she says my kidney is going into acute failure so she is sending me to a specialist.

I haven't had any problems but my urine has decreased to a spoon size. I have always been a person who drinks a lot of water so I do urinate a lot. For it to decrease this much, it scares me. I have also a lot of lower back pain. I have always had this like soft like tissue build up on my side didn't know what it was thought it was a result of weight gain. Then my doctor tells me it's probably a adrenal mass. She wants to save my kidney first then start solving the other problem. She says I might have to have dialysis so I don't know what is going on. I wanted to just start getting myself healthy and losing weight and then all this hits me.

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