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Most people are born with two adrenal glands. They are located in the back of the abdomen, just above the kidneys. The adrenal glands produce steroids and other hormones that humans use for regular bodily functions. These hormones help regulate blood pressure, kidney function, stress responses, and some sexual functions.
Adrenal cancer is extremely rare. Many are discovered incidentally – meaning that they are found by chance during radiologic studies obtained for an unrelated medical condition. Others are discovered because patients have the signs and symptoms of “hormone overload” – excessive amounts of normal hormones that result in a variety of symptoms. Another cause of adrenal tumors is from the spread (metastasis) from another cancer (such as breast, kidney, and thyroid).
The symptoms of adrenal tumors can include any of the following:
Specific physical findings, blood tests, urine tests, and X-ray studies are crucial to the diagnosis of an adrenal mass. Most important is either an MRI scan or CT scan of the abdomen. These X-ray studies are evaluated for the presence of fat. The more fat in the lesion on MRI or CT imaging, the more likely the tumor is benign (not cancer).
Most adrenal tumors are benign – meaning that they do not spread to other parts of the bodies. Many of these, however, can produce hormones that cause medical and physical ailments. Some conditions are listed below:
Surgical Treatment: Adrenalectomy
Almost all adrenal tumors are treated surgically. Academic urologic surgeons are trained in the latest and most comprehensive therapies for any type of adrenal tumor and perform both open and laparoscopic surgery. This surgery is called an adrenalectomy.
For more information on adrenal cancer, visit www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/adrenalglandcancer.html.