About Adrenal Gland Cancer

Adrenals are small triangular glands located on your kidneys. They produce hormones responsible, which affect different parts of the body. Adrenal gland cancer, also called adrenocortical cancer, begins in the adrenal glands. This rare cancer may affect one or both the adrenal glands. Though this cancer may occur at any age, it appears more commonly in children younger than five and adults over 40 years of age. Adrenal gland growths are usually benign (non-cancerous) but maybe cancerous or malignant. The five-year survival rate or adrenal cancer life expectancy after five years of diagnosis is found to be as high as 50%.

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of adrenal gland cancer result from excessive hormone production from the organ. These include:

 

  • Sudden weight gain or loss
  • Pink or purple marks on the skin (signs of easy bruising)
  • Hormonal changes that cause irregular periods, loss of hair on the head, facial hair growth in women and enlarged breast tissue and shrinking of testicles in men
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Bloating in the abdomen
  • Loss of appetite

 

These symptoms begin to appear when the tumour enlarges and can help your doctor determine the best adrenal gland cancer treatment options for you. The hormonal imbalance caused by adrenal gland cancers also affects the normal physiology of the body resulting in the following conditions:

 

  • Increased blood pressure
  • High blood sugar
  • Depression
  • Muscle weakness and cramps
  • Frequent urination

Diagnosis

Blood tests and urine analysis are the first steps in adrenal cancer diagnosis. If your cortisol levels are high and your doctor suspects adrenal gland cancer, they may recommend imaging tests like CT, MRI or PET scans. These tests detect any growth on your adrenal glands and the spread of cancer to other parts of the body.

 

Adrenal gland growths require a biopsy to determine if the growth is benign or malignant. Malignant cancers are staged to help determine how to treat adrenal gland cancer.

Treatment

Adrenal gland cancer treatment is based on its stage and type. Stage 1 and 2 adrenal gland cancers are treated by surgery, during which the entire adrenal gland is removed. Nearby lymph nodes may be removed during the procedure if they are enlarged. In most cases, further treatment is not needed. However, if the tumour is not removed completely, radiation may be given to prevent a recurrence.

 

Surgery is the mainstay for stage 3 adrenal gland cancer, during which the entire cancerous tissue is removed, including the affected adrenal gland. Sometimes, surgery may also involve the removal of the nearby kidney and a part of the liver. Surgery in Stage III adrenal gland cancer is usually followed by radiation or chemotherapy.

 

In stage 4 adrenal cancer, surgery is performed to remove the tumour, followed by radiation therapy to treat the areas of the body where cancer has spread. In some cases, chemotherapy may also be given.

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