Adrenal cancers- a complete guide

Adrenal cancer develops when the outermost layer of the adrenal glands develop malignant cells. The two adrenal glands are located above each kidney. Adrenal cancer develops as a tumor in the adrenal cortex of the gland.

The tumors are of two types:

  • Adrenal cortical carcinoma- A cancerous tumor of the adrenal gland
  • Benign adenoma- A noncancerous tumor of the adrenal gland

Tumors that are larger than 2” have a higher chance of malignancy. Sometimes the cancers of the breast, kidney, lymphoma, and stomach spread to the adrenal glands but are not termed as adenomas.

Causes and symptoms of adrenal cancer

The causes of adrenal cancers are not fully established. Smoking is said to contribute to an increased risk, though there is no definite proof.

The symptoms of adrenal cancer are indicated by:

  • The secretion of the hormones namely androgen, estrogen, cortisol, and aldosterone.
  • The tumors pressing against the organs in the body.

Some signs that indicate adrenal cancers in children are:

  • Excessive hair growth in the underarm, facial, and pubic region.
  • An enlarged penis
  • An enlarged clitoris
  • Huge breasts in boys
  • Early puberty( menstrual cycle and other physical changes) in girls

In adults, symptoms are difficult to identify as they have crossed the stages of puberty. Women who have excess androgen levels (male hormones) develop deepening of the voice and dense facial hair growth. Men who have high levels of estrogen (female hormones) may notice breast enlargement or tenderness.  When women have an excess of estrogen hormones and men have androgen hormones, diagnosis becomes difficult.

Some other symptoms of adrenal cancer that produce excess cortisol and aldosterone in adults can include high blood pressure, high blood sugar, weight gain, irregular periods, easy bruising, depression, frequent urination, and muscle cramps.


Your medical expert conducts a physical examination followed by a blood and urine sample test. Other tests for detection include an ultrasound, a ct scan, an MRI, an image-guided fine needle biopsy, a positron emission tomography (PET) scan, and an adrenal angiography.


The treatment options are:

  • Surgery- the surgical procedure to remove the adrenal glands is called adrenalectomy.
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy


The doctor may recommend ablation (destruction of cells) when surgical treatments are not viable. Consult your healthcare provider for all the possible treatment options for this type of cancer.