Adrenal Cancer

Adrenal glands are small organs located on top of each kidney. (see the adrenal glands, go to http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/medical/IM03191)(Webmaster, link to this address in new window?) They are part of the endocrine system of glands that produce hormones into the blood supply. Endocrine hormones affect different bodily functions. The adrenal hormones affect cellular functions, kidney function, and, during stress, produce hormones used during the “fight or flight” response.

Symptoms

Cancer of the adrenal glands may cause an overproduction of some of the hormones produced by the gland. Symptoms are a direct result of the overproduction of specific hormones. Because there are such a large number of bodily functions affected by adrenal hormones, the symptoms of adrenal cancer as a disease can vary widely.

A few complaints different patients may have when suffering with adrenal cancer are:

  • Symptoms that duplicate Cushings Syndrome
  • A round, red face (called a moon face)
  • Increased fat around the neck
  • Slowed growth and obesity (in children)
  • Thin arms and legs
  • Weight gain, especially in the upper body and around the stomach

Below is a list of some of the other symptoms resulting from the overproduction of other noncortisol adrenal hormones:

  • Anxiety and/or depression
  • Back pain that occurs with everyday activities
  • Bone pain and/or tenderness
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Fat accumulation between the shoulders (known as a buffalo hump)
  • High blood glucose levels
  • In men: decreased fertility and erectile dysfunction
  • In women: excessive hair growth on the face, neck, chest, abdomen, and thighs, as well as
  • Irregular or absent menstrual periods
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Low sex drive
  • Poor healing of wounds
  • Purple and/or pink stretch marks that appear on the arms, breasts, abdomen, buttocks, and thighs
  • Weakened muscles, especially in the hips and shoulders
  • Skin can become very thin and fragile and may bruise more easily

Treatment

Surgical removal of the affected gland is performed by open surgery, or in some cases, can be done using laparoscopy. Prior to surgery, the physician will try to regulate the adrenal hormones if out of balance. Following surgery, the urologist may refer the patient to a physician who specializes in endocrinology. The endocrinologist may need to see the patient on a regular basis for hormone replacement therapy.