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What is a Adrenal Glands Tumor

The adrenal glands are part of the endocrine system, which releases hormones into the blood system. Hormones are important in many body processes, including metabolism, sexual development and puberty, and stress.

There are two adrenal glands, one on the top of each kidney. They are shaped like triangles, and each is about ½ inch high and 3 inches long.

Each gland has two parts. The medulla is the inner part of the adrenal gland. It makes hormones called catecholamines, which include adrenaline and noradrenaline. These “stress hormones” increase alertness, strength and speed in an emergency. They also affect heart rate, blood pressure and sweating.

The outer part of the adrenal gland is called the cortex. It makes hormones that impact blood pressure, metabolism and how the body uses fats, carbohydrates and proteins.

Malignant Adrenal Tumors

Adrenocortical cancer: These tumors originate in the cortex of the adrenal gland. Adrenocortical  cancer is rare, affecting only about 300 to 500 people each year in the United States. There are two main types of adrenocortical cancer:

Functioning tumors are the most common type and account for about 70% of adrenal cancers. These tumors make hormones, such as cortisol, androgens or aldosterone.Non-functioning tumors do not produce hormones. Malignant adrenal pheochromocytoma: This cancer begins in the medulla. It is extremely rare, with only about 800 cases are diagnosed each year in the United States.

Malignant paragangliomas:  These tumors may begin inside or outside the adrenal gland.


People with an adrenal gland tumor may experience the following symptoms or signs. A symptom is something that only the person experiencing it can identify and describe, such as fatigue, nausea, or pain. A sign is something that other people can identify and measure, such as a fever, rash, or an elevated pulse. Together, signs and symptoms can help describe a medical problem. Sometimes, people with an adrenal gland tumor do not have any of the signs and symptoms described below. Or, the cause of a symptom or sign may be a medical condition that is not a tumor.

High blood pressure

Low potassium level

Heart palpitations


Feelings of anxiety or panic attacks


Heavy sweating/perspiration


Abdominal pain

Unexplained weight gain or weight loss


Abdominal stretch marks

Excessive hair growth

Changes in the genitals

Unusual acne

Change in libido (sex drive)

In addition, the specific tumor type of pheochromocytoma may cause dangerous surges of the hormones that regulate blood pressure and the body’s response to stress. A hormonal surge can cause blood pressure to rise very quickly, increasing the risk of a heart attack, stroke, hemorrhage, or sudden death.

If you are concerned about any changes you experience, please talk with your doctor. Your doctor will ask how long and how often you’ve been experiencing the symptom(s), in addition to other questions. This is to help find out the cause of the problem, called a diagnosis.


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