Types of Adrenal Tumors
The adrenal glands are found just above the kidneys, and produce hormones – such as adrenaline – that help people cope with stress. When you feel an extra burst of energy in a frightening or threatening situation (an adrenaline “rush”), that is the result of your adrenal glands preparing you for “fight or flight”. Adrenal tumors can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancer), and treatment can require long-term, careful follow-up in order to be sure there are no recurrences. All newly-diagnosed adrenal tumors require a detailed evaluation. Adrenal tumors are usually found:
- When a CT or other scan is done for another reason and the unsuspected tumor is seen.
- When there are symptoms present that are caused by excessive amounts of hormones produced by the tumor. Some of the hormones that these tumors can produce are –
- Steroids (Excess steroid hormone leads to Cushing’s disease)
- Aldosterone (Excess aldosterone produces Conn’s syndrome)
- Catecholamines (This tumor is called pheochromocytoma)
Once diagnosed, the treatment for adrenal tumors includes:
- Observation with no surgery: Very small tumors without any symptoms and found by chance on CT scan can be monitored over time with additional scans. Larger tumors usually are removed due to the risk of an underlying cancer.
- Laparoscopic adrenalectomy: This is the surgical treatment of choice, which involves less invasive laparoscopic surgery. The other adrenal gland would then make all the necessary adrenal hormones. Laparoscopic removal of both adrenal glands: Although rare, this treatment is recommended for some patients when tumors in both adrenal glands are causing excess hormone production, or when both are cancerous. These patients would then take pills to replace the hormones normally made by the adrenal gland.