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What Is an Adrenal Gland Tumor?

What Is an Adrenal Gland Tumor?

An abnormal development in the adrenal glands known as an adrenal gland tumour can vary in size, behaviour, and hormone output.

The little triangle-shaped adrenal glands that reside above each kidney are important in the manufacturing of hormones. These hormones control several biological processes.
The majority of adrenal tumours are nonfunctional, which means they don't produce too many hormones and have very few health problems. Some, however, can cause hormone overproduction, which might cause related health problems.
Additionally, a tumour's malignancy (cancer) or benignity (non-cancer) can have an impact on your treatment strategy. The majority of adrenal gland tumours are benign, nevertheless.

What is an adrenal gland tumour?

An abnormal growth in the adrenal glands is known as an adrenal gland tumour. Adrenal adenomas are the most prevalent form, although less common cancers include neuroblastomas (which primarily affect children), pheochromocytomas (which impact adrenaline), and adrenocortical carcinomas.
Adrenal adenomas can either be functioning or nonfunctioning, and the vast majority of them are benign (noncancerous). In contrast to nonfunctioning ones, functional ones overproduce certain hormones, including cortisol, aldosterone, and adrenaline, which might cause certain health issues.

Adrenal gland tumour symptoms

 Whether benign or malignant, hormonally active (functional) adrenal tumours frequently create too many hormones, which can lead to symptoms. According to research, hormone overactivity is thought to be a contributing factor in 15% of incidental adrenal tumours—tumours that are found during scans for other health problems.
The following signs and symptoms could be caused by cortisol-producing adrenal tumours, which lead to Cushing syndrome:
  • obesity
  • high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • high blood sugar (hyperglycemia)
  • fatigue
  • acne
  • facial redness
  • stretch marks
  • fractures
  • low bone density (osteopenia)
  • depression
  • menstrual irregularities
  • proximal muscle weakness
Aldosterone-secreting adrenal tumour symptoms could include:
  • hypertension (especially resistant hypertension)
  • muscle weakness
  • low magnesium levels (hypomagnesemia)
  • high sodium levels (hypernatremia)
  • low potassium levels (hypokalemia)
Compared to other adrenal tumours, pheochromocytoma frequently presents differently. Some signs could be:
  • rapid heart rate
  • high blood pressure
  • weight loss
  • insomnia
  • anxiety or panic attacks
If non-functioning adrenal tumours enlarge to the point that they push on nearby organs, nerves, or blood vessels, discomfort or agony may result.
According to studies, inactive adrenal tumours may eventually start secreting hormones.
  • 17% within 1 year
  • 29% within 2 years
  • 47% within 5 years
It is extremely unlikely that an adrenal adenoma will develop into a malignant tumour.

How do you know if adrenal tumours are cancerous?

A medical examination, imaging studies, and occasionally a biopsy are typically required to determine whether an adrenal tumour is malignant.
The following actions could be taken by medical practitioners to identify the type of adrenal tumour:
  1. Imaging tests: The size, position, and features of the tumour can be seen via CT scans, MRIs, and ultrasounds.
  2. Hormone function tests: Blood testing can help identify whether a tumour is releasing hormones like cortisol, aldosterone, or adrenaline excessively.
  3. Biopsy: If there is a strong suspicion that the tumour may be malignant, a biopsy may be carried out.
  4. Imaging characteristics: Malignant tumours can have a variety of characteristics, including uneven forms, rapid growth, invasion into surrounding tissues, and the presence of specific tissue patterns.
  5. Size and growth rate: Larger adrenal tumours typically have a higher chance of being malignant. In a study of 76 people with nonfunctioning adrenal tumours, malignancy rates were 0% for tumours less than 4 centimetres in diameter, 2.9% for tumours between 4-6 centimetres, and 13.6% for tumours larger than 6 centimetres.
  6. Urine test: The assessment of pheochromocytoma may also involve a urine metanephrine test.

How many adrenal tumours are malignant?

 Cancers in or around the adrenal gland are extremely uncommon compared to benign tumours, which are more common. According to the Urology Care Foundation, only 1–3 people out of every million are diagnosed with these cancers.
About 5% of the adrenal adenomas discovered by chance are cancerous.

What causes an adrenal gland tumour?

Tumours of the adrenal glands still have no known specific cause. Their growth is thought to be influenced by a variety of genetic mutations, hormonal influences, and environmental variables.

Adrenal gland tumour risk factors

 Adrenal adenoma risk could be increased by factors like obesity and tobacco usage.
The majority of adrenal incidentalomas (AIs) were detected in people in their 70s, according to a study of 2,005 people with AIs. High cholesterol, hypertension, and glucose problems (diabetes) were also common.
Additionally linked to an increased incidence of adrenal tumours are specific genetic disorders, such as:
  • FAP (familial adenomatous polyposis) and MEN1 (multiple endocrine neoplasia)
  • Syndrome of Li-Fraumeni
  • Multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 (MEN2), also known as Carney complex neurofibromatosis type 1,

Treatment options for adrenal gland tumours

 Treatment is often not necessary for benign adrenal adenomas that are not functional.
For larger or potentially malignant tumours, as well as for smaller tumours producing hormone-related problems, surgery may be advised. Small, dormant tumours are carefully monitored, and surgery may be an option if they grow or begin secreting hormones.
Medications like spironolactone can help people who are unable to have surgery control their excessive hormone production.

What is the survival rate of adrenal tumours?

 The majority of benign adrenal tumours are not fatal.
According to the American Cancer Society, the 5-year relative survival statistics for adrenal carcinoma are as follows:
  • Stage localized (limited to the source): 73%
  • Stage regional (affected surrounding areas): 53%
  • Stage two: 38% (reaching distant organs)
  • Combined with all phases, At five years, the average survival is 50%.


Tumours of the adrenal gland can vary in size, behaviour, and hormone output. The majority are benign and do not function, but some are malignant.
Even though all adrenal tumours are hormonally active, not all of them will result in symptoms. Asymptomatic tumours can be found, and any resulting symptoms can be managed with the use of routine medical exams and imaging.

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