In about 50% of adrenal cancer patients, common symptoms are caused by the hormones released by the tumor. In the remaining 50%, symptoms are experienced due to the increasingly large size of the tumor that it pushes on organs in its surroundings. In case you or your kids have any of these symptoms or signs discussed here, meet your doctor in person and get a complete check-up done at the earliest.
These signs or symptoms might be because of an adrenal tumor or something else that can be equally dangerous. Getting a comprehensive medical check-up is the best way to figure out the actual cause and avail of the necessary treatment.
What is Adrenal Cancer?
When abnormal cells in the human body travel to or form in the adrenal glands, they lead to a medical condition called adrenal cancer. The human body comprises two adrenal glands, found one above each kidney.
Adrenal cancer usually develops in the outer layer of these glands and generally appear in the form of a tumor.
Types of Adrenal Gland Tumors
The following are two types of adrenal gland tumors:
- Benign Adenomas
These are usually small in size, typically less than 2 inches. Mostly, people with this tumor notice no symptoms. These tumors occur on one of the adrenal glands. However, both adrenal glands can have these tumors in some rare cases.
- Adrenal Cortical Carcinomas
These are pretty much larger in size than the former. In case a tumor is found to be larger than 2 inches in diameter, it can be cancerous. These tumors can be so large that they can press on your organs in the surroundings and cause additional symptoms. These tumors can also produce hormones that lead to some undesired changes in your body.
General Symptoms Due to The Production of Estrogen or Androgen
Male-like hormones or androgens, released by the tumor, are the primary cause of symptoms in children. Amongst the common symptoms are an excessive growth of body and facial hair. The excessive release of this male-like hormone may enlarge penis in boys and clitoris in girls.
On the other hand, the release of female-like hormones or estrogens may lead to early puberty in girls. This also induces breasts development and starting of the menstrual cycle. If boys have this estrogen-releasing tumor, they may also have enlarged breasts.
Once individuals have grown adults, it can be difficult to notice the symptoms because they already have gone through their puberty and grown hair. Generally, men with androgen-releasing tumors and women with estrogen-releasing tumors don’t have noticeable symptoms. So, they may not experience any such symptoms until the tumor grows large enough to press on its nearby organs.
In case the symptoms are found in the opposite sex, the hormonal reaction can be easily noticed. For instance, men with an estrogen-releasing tumor may notice growing and tendering breasts. They may also experience sexual problems, such as loss of sex drive or erectile dysfunction. On the other hand, women with an androgen-releasing tumor may notice excessive growth of facial and body hair, irregular menstrual cycle, deepening of their voice, and a receding hairline.
Cortisol Production and Subsequent Symptoms
Cortisol is the stress hormone found in humans. Excessive production of this hormone leads to a problem called Cushing Syndrome. Some people may experience all of these symptoms while others with high cortisol levels may experience only a few.
The following are the signs or symptoms to be noticed:
- Excessive weight gain, typically above the collarbone and in the cheek area, causing moon face, and around the belly.
- Noticeable purple marks around the belly
- Irregular menstruation cycle
- Fat deposited around the neck and shoulders
- Excessive growth of facial and body hair on women
- High blood sugar levels
- Weakened bones
- High blood pressure
- Depression and mood swings
- Loss or weakened muscles
Adrenal cancer or adrenal adenoma may be the cause behind Cushing syndrome, which increases the level of cortisol and other related hormones in your body. It can also cause other issues like benign pituitary gland may also increase the levels of ACTH (Adrenocorticotropic Hormone), which is also called Cushing disease.
The increasing levels of ACTH cause adrenal gland tissues to release more cortisol. The symptoms are similar to those of Cushing syndrome. Some other (but rarely) tumors also cause similar symptoms.
Aldosterone Production and Symptoms Caused
The following are the main signs or symptoms of aldosterone-producing tumors:
- Elevating blood pressure
- Muscle cramps
- Low potassium levels in the blood
Adrenal adenomas often produce aldosterone while in case of adrenal cancers, it is rare.
How is Adrenal Cancer Diagnosed?
The diagnosis of adrenal cancer is based on your family medical history or a routine health check-up. Your doctor usually draws blood from your body and collects your urine sample to perform the tests.
The following are the tests you may also need to undergo based on your doctor’s prescription:
- An Ultrasound
- A CT-scan
- An MRI scan
- An adrenal angiography
- An image-guided fine-needle biopsy
- A (PET) positron emission tomography scan
Treatments for Adrenal Cancer
Doctors sometimes end up successfully treating adrenal cancer if diagnosed at an early stage. The following are 3 major treatment types of adrenal cancer:
Based on your medical condition, your doctor may suggest a procedure called adrenalectomy. This process involves the removal of the affected adrenal gland. The surgeon may also have to remove nearby tissues and lymph nodes if they’re also affected.
- Radiation Therapy
This therapy includes using high-energy X-rays to kill the cancer cells and avoid the growth of new cancer cells in the surroundings.
Based on your cancer stage, you may need to undergo chemotherapy, which also works on stopping the growth of cancer cells. This therapy can be injected into a muscle or vein or administered orally.
Your doctor may also have to combine other treatments with chemotherapy to treat cancer.
Although all diseases are bad, cancer is way more painful and often kills the affected person. You may not be able to stop cancer from developing, but you can certainly avail its treatment. So, make sure to go for a full body check-up every six months.