Adrenal Gland Tumor

Adrenal Gland Tumor: Causes, Picture, Symptoms, and Treatment

Adrenal gland tumors can affect your quality and quantity of life. The adrenal glands are the part of your endocrine system. It produces some significant hormone without which you cannot live. So, the glands have a huge importance in your life. The formation of the tumor can affect its function leading to disruption in the hormonal balance. Therefore, it can adversely affect your everyday life functions.

The tumors in benign or malignant form may not cause symptoms for some people. But, you can see some changes in your body. When you observe some unusual signs, you need to take action immediately. Seek an appointment with your doctor to eliminate the doubts. Getting treatment for the adrenal gland tumors in the early stages can prevent several complications. It is a dangerous problem that needs immediate attention.

What Are Adrenal Glands?

Adrenal Glands

The adrenal glands are an important part of the endocrine system. You have two glands on top of each kidney. It is three inches long and 0.5 inches high. Shaped like triangles, the gland has two parts. The medulla is the inner part and cortex is the outer part of the gland. The main function of the glands includes releasing hormones into the bloodstream. Therefore, hormones released by the glands perform the following function:

  • Metabolism
  • Sexual Development
  • Puberty
  • Manage Stress

The medulla makes hormones known as catecholamines. It includes both adrenaline and noradrenaline. The hormone also referred to as stress hormones increase your strength, alertness, and speed during emergency situations. The hormones also influence your heart rate, sweating, and blood pressure. The outer part is known as cortex also makes hormones. The hormones produced can impact your blood pressure. It also plays a significant part in metabolism. So, it decides how your body can use proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.

Types Of Adrenal Gland Tumor

The adrenal gland tumor is basically classified as benign and malignant. The benign tumors are masses that are non-cancerous in nature. It can affect the endocrine function adversely. So, it interferes with the hormone production by the adrenal glands. It can lead to the disruption of the tissue and organ function in your body. The malignant tumor is dangerous as they can spread to other cells or tissues.

The adrenal gland tumors are further classified as functional and non-functional. Functional tumors can trigger excess hormone production. So, it causes visible symptoms in the body. The non-functional tumor does not release any hormones. Therefore, it may not any visible signs in the body. The five major tumors affecting the adrenal glands are:


It is the type of tumor that your doctor may find accidentally during the routine checkup for an unrelated health issue. It is also known as the incidental adenomas.


It is the benign form of the adrenal gland tumor. The tumor can trigger excess production of aldosterone. The tumors are the root cause of Conn Syndrome (also referred to as hyperaldosteronism).

Adrenal Cortex Tumors

It occurs at the adrenal cortex. So, the tumor can lead to the production of cortisol. The cortisol can affect the metabolism as well as allow the body to recover from physical stress. It is the type of tumor that can lead to the condition known as Cushing’s syndrome.


It is the tumor that can trigger excess production of the catecholamines hormone. So, it produces more epinephrine and norepinephrine.

Adrenal Cortical Carcinoma

It is the rare form of cancer that occurs in the adrenal gland. It arises in the cortex region of the gland. So, the chances of spreading the adrenal cortical carcinoma are high. Without treatment, you can face serious complications.

Causes Of Adrenal Tumor

The doctors do not know the actual cause of the tumor formation in the adrenal glands. But, certain inherited disorders can put you at risk of getting the problem. Some of the main issues that trigger the problem are:

Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia Type 2 (MEN2)

Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia Type 2

It is a medical disorder that leads to the development of tumors in the endocrine system. The disorder can result in the formation of a benign or malignant tumor.

Paraganglioma Syndrome

Paraganglioma Syndrome

It is the inherited disorder that results in the development of tumors in structures called paraganglia in your body. You have nerve bunches called ganglia. The paraganglia refer to the cell group present near the ganglia. Paraganglioma refers to the tumor formation at paraganglia.

Li-Fraumeni Syndrome

It refers to the mutation occurring in your TP53. It is the tumor-suppressing gene in your body. The change in TP53 can lead to producing damaged p53 protein. So, the damaged protein cannot prevent the formation of malignant tumors. It puts the people suffering from the issue at risk of developing cancerous tumors.

Von Hippel-Lindau Disease (VHL)

Von Hippel-Lindau Disease

It is an inherited disorder leading to the development of fluid-filled sacs (cysts) or tumors in the different parts of the body.

Beckwith-Wiedemann Syndrome

It is the overgrowth disorder that occurs during the birth resulting in developmental abnormalities. It can result in congenital features and increased risk of cancer.

Not everyone who has the above-mentioned problems develops a tumor in the adrenal gland. But, your risk of getting the tumor increases with the syndromes. So, you need to consult your doctor. You can subject yourself to genetic testing to know the risk of developing the tumors.

Adrenal Gland Tumor Symptoms

The different types of the adrenal tumor may or may not cause symptoms. It depends entirely on the type of tumor. So, depending on the hormone the particular type of tumor produces, you can see signs. But, the common symptoms associated with the problem may include the following:

  • Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)
  • A Headache
  • Profuse Sweating
  • Irregular/Rapid Heartbeats
  • Low Potassium Levels
  • Paleness (Pallor)
  • Feeling Fear/Anxiety/Panic
  • Tremor
  • Feeling Lightheaded/Dizzy While Standing
  • Temporary/Intermittent Paralysis (rare)
  • Extreme Fatigue
  • Weight Gain/Loss
  • Muscle Weakness
  • Insomnia (and/or other sleep problems)
  • Muscle Spasms
  • Full, round face (also referred to as moon face)
  • Stretch marks purple-red in color (on areas like breasts, thighs or belly)
  • Thin skin with a tendency to bruise easily and heal slowly

Apart from the general symptoms, men and women may experience particular symptoms. The signs may indicate that you have some problem in your body:


In women, the tumor in the adrenal gland can affect the testosterone hormone levels. So, the body begins to produce more male hormones. It results in women having male-like features. The disruption of the hormonal balance can lead to the following:

  • Problems with menstruation
  • Deep Voice
  • Body Hair
  • Excess Facial Hair


The adrenal gland tumor can affect the sex hormones in men. So, it can affect sexual health adversely. So, men can see the following issues:

  • Lowered Sex Drive
  • Erectile Dysfunction
  • Tenderness (in the breast region)

The above-mentioned symptoms do not mean you have a tumor. But, it indicates some health problem. Therefore, you need to seek your doctor’s advice. A medical professional can detect the underlying health problem. The early detection can avoid the health problem from escalating.

Adrenal Gland Diagnosis

Adrenal tumors irrespective of its nature pose a serious challenge to diagnose. The signs and symptoms may mimic other problems. So, you need the expertise of a proficient endocrinologist to detect the issue precisely. Getting medical help will help you diagnose the problem precisely. So, your doctor can suggest the following to come to the right conclusion.

Physical Examination

The first step to diagnose the problem is to check the symptoms. Your doctor will perform a thorough physical examination to detect the issues you suffer. You also need to answer the question regarding your medical history. So, the comprehensive information about your health and results of physical examination can help reach a conclusion. Based on it, your doctor can order further tests to establish the problem.

Blood Test

The presence of a malignant or non-malignant tumor can release certain hormone or chemicals in your blood. So, measuring the hormones can establish the presence of the tumor in your adrenal gland. The levels of the following hormones or chemicals can indicate the presence of a tumor:

  • Aldosterone
  • Cortisol
  • DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone)
  • Plasma metanephrines
  • Sodium
  • Potassium

Urine Tests

The different urine tests can also detect the problem. In most cases, the 24-hour urine collection tests can establish the presence of the tumors.

Imaging Tests

The sophisticated imaging tests can provide clear images of the adrenal gland. So, the doctor can establish the location, size, and structure of the tumor using the images. Your doctor can order the different imaging tests for getting the detailed picture of the tumor affecting the adrenal gland.

Genetic Testing

In some cases, the genetic factor can result in getting the tumor. So, people with a family history of a tumor in adrenal gland need to undergo the genetic testing. It determines the risk you face in getting the tumors. You can undergo a counseling session to cope up with the situation and take the right decision.

Seeking assistance from an expert will help diagnose the adrenal tumors easily. They can use sophisticated tools and technology to come to a concise diagnosis. It will help develop a good treatment plan ideal to overcome your symptoms. Therefore, going to the doctor as early as possible will save your life.

Treatment Options For Adrenal Gland Tumor

Based on the diagnosis, your doctor can opt for the treatment plan customized to alleviate the condition. With the imaging tests, the doctor determines the size, location, and severity of the tumor. In most cases, you get relief only after removing the tumor. So, based on the results, your doctor suggests the apt treatment plan.


The trained endocrinologist can suggest the surgery to remove the tumor. Sometimes, the healthy tissue surrounding the tumor also gets removes. For the surgery, you need to seek the assistance of a surgical endocrinologist. It is the surgeon who specializes in treating all types of the endocrine tumor using the invasive procedure. Therefore, the surgical endocrinologist performs the adrenalectomy. It refers to the surgical removal of the adrenal gland tumor. You have two surgical options. It is decided based on the size of the tumor.

Laparoscopic Surgery

It is the most suitable option for your small tumor in the adrenal gland that measures less than five cm. laparoscopic surgery is ideal for non-cancerous tumors. It is the minimally invasive technique that takes very less time to heal. The surgeon uses a lighted camera along with special instruments for the procedure. it makes only small incisions on your skin. So, the technique reduces pain and heals faster than the traditional incisions. Depending on the experience of the surgeon and the location of the tumor, your surgery location varies. The back or abdomen are the places your surgeon selects for the incisions. So, after the surgery, you can leave the hospital within a couple of days. You can get back to your normal activities within a week.

Open Adrenalectomy

Your doctor opts for the large incision surgery for tumor cancerous in nature or larger than five cm. it takes more time to heal. After the surgery, you also need to take complete bed rest. You need to stay in the hospital for up to seven days. Better care is required after the surgery. Therefore, you need to avoid lifting of heavy objects for six weeks after the surgery. The surgeon chooses the back or abdomen for incision based on your health and tumor location.

Risks Of Surgery

The adrenal gland tumor removal surgery can lead to bleeding. The tumor can release excess stress hormones. The hormones referred to as catecholamines need monitoring after the surgery. So, your doctor can provide medication to reduce hypertension caused by the hormones. For excess hormone production, your doctor may monitor yours constantly. You need to take extensive medication to get the blood pressure under control. It also requires high levels of preparation before the surgery.

Hormone Therapy

The tumors in adrenal glands trigger excess hormone production. Therefore, your doctor may put you on various medication. It is required before, during, and after the surgery or other treatments. Depending on the tumor and the hormone it produces, your doctor suggests medications to lower the levels. Additional treatment also alleviates the complications arising due to the excess hormone. So, your doctor suggests the ideal drugs to counteract the effects of excess hormone production.


It is a suitable treatment option for the cancerous adrenal gland tumor cells. The chemotherapy drugs can destroy the cancer cells. So, it stops the cells from growing and dividing themselves. You need to get the treatment from the oncologist. The specialist doctor treats the cancerous tumor with the medication and eliminates it. You are provided with the chemotherapy medication orally or via IV. The medication placed into your vein using the needle can reach the bloodstream. You need to swallow the chemotherapy drugs available in pills or capsules to get the desired effects. Therefore, the medication can reach the tumor cells throughout the body to destroy it completely. The chemotherapy has some side-effects. It destroys cancerous cells along with healthy cells. So, you need to talk to your doctor regarding the adverse effects you can experience.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy can shrink the tumor or kill the cancer cells. To perform the therapy, you need the professional expertise of a radiologist (radiation oncologist). The specialized doctor has the necessary training in providing radiation to treat the tumor. Only in rare cases, the adrenal gland tumor requires radiation therapy. The doctor can use external beam radiation therapy to kill cancer cells. It is the most common type used by doctors. So, you need to undergo a specified set of treatment over a set period of time to get relief.

Radiation therapy has side-effects. You need to talk to your doctor before undergoing the procedure. It will make you aware of the adverse effects. Get the necessary information from your doctor about the short-term and long-term after-effects of the treatments.

Seeking Support

Most people forget getting the support needed to cope with the emotional and social effects of tumor diagnosis. But, you need to understand its significance. The adrenal gland tumor diagnosis can have mental and physical changes in the patients. It also affects the patient’s loved ones. You the patient and their close one need support to deal with their emotions. Whether it is stress, anger, or anxiety, you need to keep it under control. So, surrounding with people with whom you can express your feeling can have positive effects. A professional counselor can help more as they know what to say in return. They can help you find the coping strategies to deal with the social and emotional effects. Surrounding yourself with positive thoughts and positive people can do wonders.


Adrenal gland tumor is a serious condition that can have severe complications in your body. Both benign and malignant forms of the tumor can create havoc in your life. The cancerous tumor can prove fatal as you can lose your life without proper treatment. Therefore, you need to seek your doctor’s help to rectify the problem as quickly as possible. It will also eliminate the other complications from your life. So, improve your quality of life by seeking immediate medical assistance.

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One Comment

  1. I recently had a trip to the ER because of left side flank pain. It was severe and I thought I was passing a kidney stone. They did a CAT scan and saw no stones, but unrelated (they say) there was a finding of a 9mm nodule in the medial limb of the left adrenal gland.

    They called it an adrenal adenoma because there doesn’t seem to be any symptoms. Of your list of symptoms the only one that applies would be the muscle spasm/ flank pain. Can they diagnose this as benign from the CAT or will there need to be more tests? I’m going to see my GP in a few days wondering if there are any questions I should ask? I’m worried this flank pain is part of the adrenal tumor.

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