Adrenal cancer, also called adrenocortical carcinoma, is a rare cancer that stems from the adrenal cortex. Located atop each kidney, the adrenal glands produce vital hormones that regulate several important bodily functions. Recognizing the symptoms of adrenal cancer can be crucial for early diagnosis and treatment.
Adrenal gland tumors, specifically primary tumors that start in the adrenal gland, are relatively rare. Every year, around 600 people in the United States receive a diagnosis of adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC), a form of cancer that originates from the outer layer of the adrenal gland.
Multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN) is a group of rare, inherited disorders that involve the development of tumors (benign or malignant) in two or more endocrine glands, including the adrenal glands. MEN is primarily characterized by the occurrence of tumors in multiple endocrine glands simultaneously.
Adrenal adenomas are benign (non-cancerous) tumors that are more common than MEN and ACC. These tend to be diagnosed more frequently in middle-aged and older adults. The average age of someone diagnosed with any kind of adrenal gland tumor is 46.
The main treatment for adrenal cancer is surgical removal (adrenalectomy). When adrenal cancer is found early, there’s a chance for a cure. However, if the cancer has spread to areas beyond the adrenal glands, a cure becomes less likely. The five-year survival rate is 74% when the tumor is found early and can be removed surgically.
The five-year survival rate refers to the percentage of patients who live at least five years after their cancer is diagnosed. So, a five-year survival rate of 74% would mean that an estimated 74 out of 100 people are alive five years after being diagnosed.
Several factors can influence this rate:
Sometimes there are no signs and symptoms of adrenal cancer in its early stages, but as it progresses, several signs may indicate its presence.
The adrenal glands make hormones (sex hormones) like androgens and estrogens. When there's a tumor, these glands might make too many hormones. This can cause specific symptoms of adrenal cancer depending on age and gender.
For kids, signs and symptoms of adrenal cancer may look like early puberty. For example, getting taller quickly. While there’s no specific time frame that’s more indicative of cancer or dysfunction, the key is to pay attention.
If a child is growing significantly faster than their peers, or if an adult is experiencing rapid changes in their body, such as a deepening voice, increased body hair growth, or changes in their menstrual cycle, it’s crucial to see a doctor to rule out any underlying medical conditions.
Tumors in the adrenal glands can interfere with the body's metabolism. Weight gain or weight loss due to adrenal tumors is primarily driven by the hormones produced (or not produced) by the adrenal glands.
When the adrenal glands aren't working right because of a tumor, muscles may feel weak — like the way your legs might feel after a long run — but it happens without exercising.
The adrenal glands make aldosterone, which helps control blood pressure. A tumor can make the gland produce too much of the aldosterone hormone, leading to high blood pressure.
The adrenal glands also play a role in managing blood sugar. When they're not working correctly because of a tumor, sugar levels can go up and down. This is like a seesaw that doesn't stay balanced and can lead to diabetes.
Cortisol also helps your body deal with injuries. If the tumor affects how much cortisol you have, you might bruise more easily. Think of cortisol as the body's natural Band-Aid. Without enough of it, you might see more marks on your skin.
When an adrenal tumor grows, it can press on nearby organs, causing pain or a feeling of fullness. Accompanying weight gain may cause your clothes to feel tight all of a sudden. Or your skin may feel tight and itchy.
Adrenal dysfunction can sometimes be detected through blood work. When adrenal tumors are present, they produce excess hormones that can be measured in the blood. For instance, elevated levels of cortisol, aldosterone, androgens, or estrogens in blood (or in urine tests) can be indicative of an adrenal tumor.
While blood tests can show abnormal hormone levels suggesting the presence of an adrenal tumor, further imaging tests like computed tomography (CT scan) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the adrenal glands are typically needed to locate and assess the tumor directly.
Adrenal cancer, specifically adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC), originates in the adrenal cortex — the outer layer of the adrenal glands, located on top of each kidney. The exact cause of adrenal cancer is still unknown. But like other cancers, it starts when cells grow uncontrollably, forming a tumor. Over time, these cancer cells in the adrenal glands can invade nearby tissues or spread to other body parts.
Adrenal carcinoma (cancer) is rare and can occur at any age. But while anyone can develop adrenal cancer, certain factors can increase the risk:
It's worth noting that many people diagnosed with adrenal cancer might not have any clear risk factors, and many who have known risk factors won't develop the disease.
Pain associated with adrenal cancer can vary based on the tumor's size, location, and whether it has spread to other parts of the body. In its early stages, adrenal cancer might not cause any pain or discomfort. But as the tumor grows, it can cause the following:
If you suspect you have symptoms of adrenal cancer or have concerns about any health issue, consult a doctor for accurate diagnosis and appropriate care.
Early detection is crucial in the fight against adrenal cancer. With advanced screening techniques, it's possible to identify potential concerns even before symptoms appear. By leveraging tools like Ezra's Full Body MRI Scan, you can proactively monitor changes in your adrenal glands, ensuring timely intervention and improving the chances of a successful treatment outcome. Here are some of the benefits of a full-body MRI scan from Ezra.
The adrenal glands, though small, play a crucial role in your body's hormone production and regulation. Even though adrenal cancer is fairly rare, it’s a good idea to understand the signs and symptoms so that you’re aware of changes in your body.
The Ezra Full Body MRI scan provides a state-of-the-art solution to keep a watchful eye on your adrenal glands and many other body parts. When you start screening before you have any symptoms, it’s easier to watch for any changes that may occur. This is helpful because, with all types of cancer, early detection leads to more successful cancer treatment.
Discover the peace of mind a comprehensive screening can offer. Book your scan today.