Glands are bodily organs that produce substances needed to perform various functions. Everyone has two adrenal glands located right above the kidneys. They’re responsible for creating steroid hormones, which act as chemical messengers for virtually all tissues and organs.
What is adrenal cancer? Adrenal cancer (or adrenocortical cancer) is a rare form of genitourinary cancer. The condition is characterized by a cancerous growth (tumor) in one or both adrenal glands. It’s important to note, however, that most adrenal masses are benign, meaning they’re not cancerous.
If you think you or a loved one may have adrenal cancer, you’ve come to the right place. Immunity Therapy Center is dedicated to educating patients and their families about the effects of different infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases, chronic degenerative diseases, and cancers. Read on for a detailed list of the most common symptoms and signs of adrenal cancer.
Adrenal Gland Cancer Symptoms
In roughly half of the individuals with adrenal cancer, symptoms are a result of hormones (androgen and estrogen) produced by the growth. Among the other half, adrenal gland cancer symptoms crop up when the tumor grows so large that it presses into neighboring organs.
How Androgen and Estrogen Affect the Body
Androgens are steroid hormones that regulate the development of male sex organs and other male characteristics. Estrogen, on the other hand, governs the development of secondary sex characteristics and the female reproductive system.
Signs of Adrenal Cancer in Children
When estrogen and androgen are secreted in young children, it may result in early puberty, breast development, and excessive body or facial hair. The signs of hormone-producing tumors aren’t as obvious in adults, as they’ve already gone through puberty, but there are some common indicators.
Signs of Adrenal Cancer in Adults
As with children, the symptoms often differ between women and men. With women, an androgen spike caused by adrenal cancer might result in irregular menstruation, hair loss such as a receding hairline, abnormal hair growth on the face, or a deepened voice. Men with estrogen-producing tumors may notice tenderness in the breast tissue, enlarged breast tissue, shrunken testicles, a decreased sex drive, or erectile dysfunction.
Conversely, a woman with an estrogen-producing growth might not experience any symptoms. And a man with an androgen-producing adrenocortical carcinoma (tumor) may not notice any effects.
What Does an Enlarged Adrenal Tumor Feel Like?
As we mentioned, it’s still possible to feel pressure from a growing tumor as it presses into nearby organs—even if there aren’t any apparent hormonal symptoms. An enlarged adrenal tumor might be painful, create a feeling of fullness, or make it uncomfortable to eat.
In many instances, though, adrenal nodules (growths) are symptomless. They’re often discovered inadvertently when CT scans or MRIs are conducted for unrelated health concerns. According to the American Cancer Society, adrenal tumors appear unexpectedly in about 5% of CT abdominal scans.
When Tumors Produce Excess Cortisol
The adrenals are also responsible for creating a hormone called cortisol. Too much cortisol can be problematic, potentially leading to tumors. When adrenal tumors continue producing excess cortisol, it can result in Cushing syndrome (also called Cushing’s syndrome).
Bear in mind, though, that adrenal tumors can be benign or malignant, both of which may cause Cushing syndrome. Adrenal adenomas (benign growths) rarely generate excess cortisol. However, another type of benign tumor called macronodular hyperplasia is known to enlarge the glands and produce unhealthy cortisol levels.
Signs of Excess Cortisol
Excess cortisol doesn’t look or feel the same on everyone. That said, there are a number of relatively common signs.
Symptoms of excess cortisol include:
- Weight gain in the cheeks, above the collar bone, or around the abdomen
- Fatty deposits behind the shoulders and neck area
- Abnormal hair growth on the face, chest, or back
- Purplish stretch marks around the abdomen
- Muscle weakness or reduced muscle mass
- Menstrual irregularities
Some people may also bruise more easily than normal, experience high blood pressure (hypertension), or feel depressed. Since there are many causes of excess cortisol, your healthcare provider will run various tests to determine whether it’s a result of an adrenal tumor or another factor.
Aldosterone-producing tumors are usually benign, but in rare cases, they can be cancerous. With non-cancerous adenomas, the growth develops in the adrenal gland and results in a condition called primary hyperaldosteronism, in which the adrenal medulla produces excess aldosterone.
Symptoms of Aldosterone-Producing Tumors
Aldosterone is a hormone that controls blood pressure and body fluid levels by regulating sodium retention in the kidneys. When adrenal tumors generate excess aldosterone, it can cause the kidneys to store more salt than usual, which is a health concern.
Signs of aldosterone-producing adrenal tumors include:
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat)
- Low potassium levels
- Muscle cramps
High blood pressure also puts a person at an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and other serious heart-related conditions. Additionally, excessive aldosterone secretion could lead to a rare condition called Conn’s disease (primary aldosteronism).
Adrenaline-Producing Adrenal Tumors
In some cases, adrenal gland tumors secrete abnormally high adrenaline and noradrenaline (sometimes called norepinephrine). Symptoms can include high blood pressure, excessive sweating, frequent headaches, weight loss, weakness, and feelings of anxiousness.
Types of Adrenocortical Tumors
The two main types of adrenal cortex tumors include adrenocortical adenomas and carcinomas. Adrenocortical adenomas are benign (non-cancerous), and carcinomas are malignant (cancerous).
Benign Adrenal Tumors vs. Cancerous Adrenal Tumors
Adrenal adenomas are usually smaller than 2 inches and occur in a single gland, though it’s possible to develop benign tumors in both. People with adrenal cortex adenomas often won’t experience symptoms and may not be aware of the growth.
However, benign adenomas lead to excess steroid hormones in some cases, which can result in symptoms similar to cancerous growth. For instance, a functioning tumor is a type of adenoma that produces hormones in excess, potentially causing medical conditions such as Cushing syndrome. But as noted above, both benign and malignant adrenal tumors can lead to Cushing syndrome.
This is why it can be difficult to determine whether a tumor is cancerous. And devastatingly, it may not be detected until the cancer cells spread to other parts of the body.
Explore Alternative Cancer Treatments
When adrenal carcinomas are detected in the early stages and treated accordingly, full recovery is possible. In some cases, adrenal cancer treatment can also slow the progression of a cancerous tumor or prevent a recurrence.
Treatment plans often involve surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, anti-cancer medications, or a combination of methods. While these approaches can be effective, they’re associated with a suppressed immune system and a range of uncomfortable side effects.
With this in mind, Immunity Therapy Center offers several alternative treatments for managing various types of cancer. This includes biomagnetic therapy, stem cell therapy, enzyme therapy, immunotherapy treatment, regenerative cell therapy, and laser treatment.
We’re dedicated to providing personalized cancer care plans, each one structured around the patient’s unique health needs and diagnosis. Contact us at Immunity Therapy Center to learn more about our natural therapies or schedule a free consultation.
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At Immunity Therapy Center, our goal is to provide objective, updated, and research-based information on all health-related topics. This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles. All information has been fact-checked and reviewed by Dr. Carlos Bautista, a Board Certified Medical Doctor at Immunity Therapy Center. All information published on the site must undergo an extensive review process to ensure accuracy. This article contains trusted sources with all references hyperlinked for the reader's visibility.