When abnormal cells are formed or spread to the adrenal glands it causes adrenal cancer. This type of cancer occurs mostly in the outermost layer of the adrenal glands, which is known as the adrenal cortex. The adrenal glands are located one each above both our kidneys. Adrenal cancer usually appears as a tumor.
Types of Adrenal Gland Tumors
Adrenal Cortical Carcinoma
Adrenal cortical carcinoma is a cancerous tumor of the adrenal gland. Compared to non-cancerous (benign) tumors, cancerous tumors are bigger in size. As a thumb rule, if a tumor is more than 2 inches in diameter, there are increased chances that it’s cancerous. When adrenal tumors grow in size they can press on other organs or secrete hormones to cause abnormal changes in the body.
Benign adenomas are noncancerous tumors in the adrenal gland. They are quite small compared to the cancerous ones and usually measure less than 2 inches in diameter. People with such tumors show no symptoms and it’s not life-threatening.
Signs and Symptoms of Adrenal Cancer
Symptoms of adrenal cancer occur due to increased production of hormones or due to a large tumor pressing against any organ in the body. Major symptoms include:
- Excessive hair growth in the face, underarm or pubic area
- Abnormal enlargement of the penis
- Abnormal size of a clitoris
- Signs of early puberty in girls
- Large breasts in boys
- High blood pressure
- Increased sugar in the blood
- Frequent urination
- Weight gain
- Irregular periods
- Muscle cramps
Tests and Diagnosis for Adrenal Cancer
Your doctor will record your medical history and carry out a physical examination to diagnose adrenal cancer. He will also perform blood and urine tests. Other major tests include:
- Blood Test to check for high levels of hormones produced by the tumors
- Urine Test to check for abnormal hormone levels in the body
- Ultrasound to verify whether there is a tumor in the adrenal gland and how far it has spread in the body
- Image-guided fine needle biopsy to confirm whether the tumor is benign (harmless) or cancerous
- CT scan to confirm the location of the tumor
- Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan; this is also done to confirm the location and verify the type of cancer
- MRI scan is done to look for tumors in the pituitary gland since the symptoms are similar
Surgery and Treatment for Adrenal Cancer
Early medical intervention increases the chances of getting cured of adrenal cancer. Three major forms of treatments are followed for adrenal cancer.
Removing the adrenal gland through surgery is called an adrenalectomy. This is usually done when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. During this surgery, the surgeon may also remove nearby tissues and lymph nodes depending upon the severity of the disease.
Radiation therapy is generally not used as the main type of treatment but after a surgery to prevent the tumor from coming back. High-energy and powerful X-rays are used in this therapy to destroy cancer cells and stop new cells from growing. It may also be used to prevent and treat cancer that has spread into the bones or brain.
Chemotherapy uses various type of drugs administered through the mouth or directly to the vein to treat adrenal cancer. This therapy is often used to control the spread of cancer throughout the body.
Side Effects and Complications
Cancer treatment may lead to a variety of side effects due to the use of powerful medicines, X-rays and surgery. Some of them includes:
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty swallowing
- Bleeding problems
- Hair loss
- Hormone deprivation symptoms in men
Factors affecting the cost of adrenal cancer treatment
The following factors may determine the cost of treatment:
- Choice of hospital and rooms
- Fees: Doctor, surgeon, anesthesiologist, physiotherapist, special nurses, dietician, etc.
- Type of treatment
- Cancer stage
- Cost of medications
- Length of stay in hospitals
- Costs of tests and diagnostics
- Doctor visits