Adrenal Cancer Causes and Symptoms

Written by Julie M. Gentile
Reviewed by Daniel J. Toft MD, PhD

No one knows for sure what exactly causes adrenal cancer—cancer that causes abnormal growths (tumors) in your adrenal glands—but researchers know that adrenal cancer is extremely rare. They also know that adrenal cancer is a very aggressive cancer and that there are several symptoms of adrenal cancer.

This article explains the most common causes and symptoms of adrenal cancer.

Adrenal Cancer Causes

Adrenal Cancer Symptoms
Most patients with adrenal cancer will have symptoms, but some people may also feel fine. In fact, some patients don't even know they have adrenal cancer until their doctor finds a tumor on a computed tomography (CT) scan or a different type of imaging test done for another reason.

For example, a doctor can order a CT scan for a patient with persistent stomach pain, but he or she may find an adrenal cancer tumor.

There are 3 types of cancerous adrenal tumors: adrenal cortical carcinomas, neuroblastomas, and some pheochromocytomas. Most of these tumors cause an overproduction of specific hormones, including aldosterone, cortisol, estrogen, and testosterone. It's the overproduction of these hormones that cause symptoms.

Excessive hormone production can lead to endocrine disorders, such as Cushing's syndrome (from too much cortisol) and precocious puberty (from too much aldosterone).

Despite causing symptoms in some people, it's hard to detect adrenal cancer early, and often, tumors grow very large and can metastasize (spread) before they're found.

However, adrenal cancer is typically diagnosed earlier in children than in adults because symptoms may be more easily recognizable (eg, early puberty) since children are still developing.

The symptoms of adrenal cancer depend on a variety of factors.

If a malignant adrenal tumor causes too much aldosterone, symptoms may include:

Symptoms of a cancerous adrenal tumor that causes too much cortisol include:

Symptoms of adrenal cancer that involves tumors that overly produce estrogen are:

Adrenal tumors that cause excessive production of testosterone include symptoms, such as:

In addition, some adrenal tumors are so large that they press on other organs. If a tumor presses on nearby organs and tissues, it can cause pain or a feeling of fullness.

It's also important to note that some people with adrenal cancer have no symptoms at all, so it can be tricky to diagnose.

If you have any of the symptoms of adrenal cancer, talk to your doctor immediately. Your doctor can diagnose adrenal cancer using a computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance image (MRI). The sooner adrenal cancer is found, the sooner you can start treatment for adrenal cancer.

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Reference

  1. Adrenal Cancer page. The MetroHealth System Web site. Available at: http://www.metrohealth.org/body.cfm?id=1626&oTopID=1616. Accessed February 8, 2011.

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