The adrenal glands, situated above each kidney, are endocrine glands that secrete hormones into the blood to regulate metabolism and respond to emergency situations (adrenaline). Each gland is made up of an outer cortex and an inner medulla. Tumours in the adrenal gland are rare and usually non-cancerous.
Many adrenal tumours are found when performing CT scans for other purposes. Most these are small, non-functioning, harmless lumps which need to be investigated and then left alone. A period of monitoring is essential and often scans will be repeated to make sure the tumour is not growing.
Functioning tumours of the adrenal glands cause symptoms due to overproduction of one of the adrenal hormones. Symptoms can vary widely and include weight gain or loss, limb wasting, fat accumulation in the neck and face, high blood pressure, diabetes, muscle cramps, thirst, sweating, excess urination, irritability and depression.
When you present to the clinic with the above symptoms, your doctor will review your medical history and perform a thorough physical examination. Blood and urine tests are ordered to check the levels of adrenal hormones. Imaging studies are performed to identify the tumour, its spread and the blood supply to the area. A biopsy may be performed to study a sample of suspected tissue under the microscope.
Your doctor will determine treatment depending on the size and nature of the tumour whether removal is required. Surgery may be recommended to completely remove suspicious or those which are causing symptoms. Tumours that have spread are usually treated by chemotherapy (cancer destroying medication) or radiotherapy (high energy radiation). Medications to treat high blood pressure and other symptoms may also be required.