The Basics of Adrenal Gland Tumors

Adrenal glands are the triangular-shaped glands located on top of the kidneys. These small glands are also called suprarenal glands. These are responsible for producing hormones that regulate the body’s metabolism and immune system as well as our body’s response to stress.[1]

There are two parts to the adrenal glands – the cortex (outer layer) and medulla (inner layer). The cortex in itself has different layers producing specific hormones like aldosterone (controls blood pressure), cortisol (for the immune system), and sex hormones (for reproductive organs). While the medulla produces catecholamines, better known as adrenaline, helping with our flight or fight response.[2]

The adrenal glands perform very important functions to keep our body in balance. Such a task does not in any way exempt it from infection or diseases such as tumors.

What are adrenal gland tumors?

Adrenal gland tumors are abnormal growths that can be benign or malignant. Benign tumors that grow in the adrenal cortex are referred to as Adrenal Adenomas while those that grow in the medulla are referred to as called pheochromocytomas (fee-o-kroe-moe-sy-TOE-muhs).[3]

According to The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), the average age of person diagnosed with adrenal gland tumors is 46 although tumors can sprout at any age. Women are also more likely to be diagnosed other than men.[4]

Causes of Adrenal Gland Tumors

The direct causes of adrenal gland tumors are not known, but health professionals believe some hereditary conditions increase the risk of developing tumors in the adrenal glands. Conditions such as Neurofibromatosis type 1 (caused by abnormal cell multiplication[5]) and Li-Fraumeni Syndrome (mutation of tumor suppressing genes, creating predisposition to a wide range of cancers[6]) are just a few of the hereditary conditions putting people at a higher risk to develop adrenal gland tumors.[7]

Symptoms of Adrenal Gland Tumors

Some of the many signs that a patient with adrenal gland tumor may experience, as per ASCO are:

The American Cancer Society also tagged Androgens (male-type hormones) as causes for symptoms such as excessive facial and body hair growth as well as enlargement of the penis in males or clitoris in girls.

Estrogens (female-type hormones) cause symptoms such as early puberty in girls and can also cause enlargement in the breasts of boys.[8]

Possible treatment for Adrenal Gland Tumors

Fortunately, there are ways to treat adrenal gland tumors, which can help in the overall betterment of a patient’s life. Symptom management or Palliative care is an integral part of the treatment and healing process for patients positively diagnosed with tumors.

Adrenalectomy or the surgical removal of the adrenal gland with the tumor may be done to treat the patient. Chemotherapy, Radiation therapy, and Hormone therapy may also be prescribed depending on the severity of the patient’s case.

[1] Johns Hopkins Medicine. Adrenal Glands. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/endocrinology/adrenal_glands_85,p00399

[2] Columbia Surgery Irving Medical Center. The Adrenal Glands and Adrenal Diseases. http://columbiasurgery.org/adrenal/adrenal-glands-and-adrenal-diseases

[3] The Mayo Clinic. Benign Adrenal Tumors. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/benign-adrenal-tumors/symptoms-causes/syc-20356190

[4] The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). Adrenal Gland Tumor: Statistics. https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/adrenal-gland-tumor/statistics

[5] Cleveland Clinic. Neurofibromatosis Type 1 (NF1). https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/14422-neurofibromatosis-type-1-nf1

[6] Li-Fraumeni Syndrome Association. WHAT IS LFS? | LI-FRAUMENI SYNDROME ASSOCIATION. https://www.lfsassociation.org/what-is-lfs/

[7] Cleveland Clinic. (Reviewed 2018 June 30). Adrenal Tumors. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17769-adrenal-tumors

[8] American Cancer Society. (2018 January 2). Signs and Symptoms of Adrenal Cancers. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/adrenal-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-symptoms.html

 

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