Cancer of the adrenal gland is a rare condition that can occur either in the cortex or the medulla of the gland. The cortex is the outer layer of the gland, while the medulla is the inner layer. Cancerous tumors in the adrenal cortex are usually non-cancerous (benign) tumors that do not spread to other parts of the body. Cancerous tumors in the adrenal medulla, however, are usually cancerous (malignant) tumors that can spread to other parts and tissues of the body.
Adrenal Gland Cancer Treatment in Tucson, AZ
What is Adrenal Gland Cancer?
The adrenal gland is a small, triangular-shaped gland that is located on top of each kidney. The adrenal gland consists of two parts: the medulla and the cortex. The medulla produces catecholamines, which are hormones that are involved in the fight-or-flight response. The cortex produces steroid hormones, such as cortisol and aldosterone, which help to regulate metabolism and blood pressure.
Adrenal gland cancer is a rare type of cancer that arises from the cells of the adrenal gland. The most common type of adrenal gland cancer is called adrenocortical carcinoma, which arises from the cells of the cortex. Adrenocortical carcinoma is more common in women than in men, and it usually occurs in adults between the ages of 30 and 50. Symptoms of adrenocortical carcinoma include weight loss, fatigue, abdominal pain, and changes in appetite. Treatment options for adrenocortical carcinoma include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.
Types of Adrenal Gland Cancer
Under a microscope, distinguishing between normal and abnormal adrenal tumors might be difficult. According to the American Cancer Society, determining if adrenal cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or other organs and tissues is sometimes the only way to confirm it. Non-cancerous adrenal tumors (adenomas) do not travel beyond the adrenal gland.
The three most prevalent types of adrenal cancer are:
- Adrenocortical carcinoma: This is the most frequent form of adrenal cancer, also known as adrenal cortical carcinoma (ACC) or adrenal cortex cancer. It usually develops in the outer layer of the cortex and is usually not detected until it is quite big. This type of malignancy frequently appears after the manifestation of symptoms, particularly pain or a sensation of fullness, resulting in weight loss. Adrenocortical tumors that produce more hormones than normal may cause weight gain and beard growth or early puberty. When an adrenal tumor achieves a diameter greater than 5 to 6 cm, it is generally assumed to be cancerous.
- Pheochromocytoma: Adrenaline-producing cells, which are known as epinephrine-secreting chromaffin cells, produce this type of adrenal cancer in the medulla. Epinephrine helps to control important bodily functions such as heart rate and blood pressure. Blood vessel hypertension, excessive sweating, racing heartbeat, and nervousness are examples of symptoms of this form of tumor.
- Neuroblastoma: This type of adrenal cancer is most common in infants and children under the age of ten. Early detection is possible since the cells are unusual. However, the source might be difficult to establish in rare circumstances due to the cells’ rapid dissemination. According to the American Cancer Society, one in three neuroblastomas starts in the adrenals.
What are the symptoms of Adrenal Gland Cancer?
The following are signs and symptoms of adrenal cancer:
- A sudden or gradual increase in weight.
- A lack of muscle strength
- Stretch marks that are pink or purple in color
- Excess facial hair, head hair loss and irregular periods in women can be caused by hormone changes.
- Male hormone fluctuations may cause drooping breasts and shrinking testicles.
- Fever and back pain
- Unable to eat
- Natural weight loss that does not need diets or activity
How is Adrenal Gland cancer diagnosed?
Adrenal cancer diagnostic techniques include:
- Testing of blood and urine. Adrenal hormones, such as cortisol, aldosterone, and androgens, may be detected at abnormally high levels in the blood and urine testing.
- Diagnostic imaging. To better understand any growths on your adrenal glands and to see if cancer has spread to other areas of your body, such as your lungs or liver, your doctor may recommend a computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or positron emission tomography (PET) scan.
- Examining your adrenal gland in the lab. In cases where adrenal cancer is suspected, surgical removal of the adrenal gland may be suggested. A specialist with expertise in studying human tissues will perform laboratory analysis on the gland (pathologist). This examination can verify the presence of malignancy and identify the specific cell types at play.
There are four stages of Adrenal Gland cancer:
The fourth letter of the Greek alphabet is used to designate the disease stage in Oncology. The T, N, and M letters are combined by oncologists to determine the cancer’s stage.
Stage I: The tumor is less than 5 cm in diameter and hasn’t spread beyond the adrenal gland. It has not communicated via the lymphatic system to other regions of the body (T1, N0, M0).
Stage II: The tumor measures more than 5 cm in diameter. It has not spread to nearby lymph nodes or other areas of the body (T2, N0, M0).
Stage III: A tumor is defined as follows:
- The lymphoma has spread to the regional lymph nodes but not beyond (T1, N1, M0).
- Although it is larger than 5 cm, it has only spread to the regional lymph nodes and not other parts of the body (T2, N1, M0).
- It is extra large and has extended beyond the adrenal gland but not to neighboring organs (T3, N0, M0).
Stage IV: The following are descriptions of the tumor:
- The tumor is growing in size and has grown into the vicinity of the adrenal gland, but it does not extend beyond adjacent organs. The tumor has spread to local lymph nodes (T3, N1, M0), but it has not spread to other regions of the body.
- It is cancerous, can be any size, and has spread to nearby organs but not the lymph nodes or other parts of the body (T4, N0, M0).
- It has invaded the organs surrounding it and has spread to other organs. Although cancer has spread to regional lymph nodes, it has not yet reached areas of the body outside of the near organs (T4, N1, M0).
- The tumor has spread to other regions of the body (T, N, or M1).
What are the treatments for Adrenal Gland cancer?
The most common treatment for adrenal cancer is surgery to remove the tumor. However, depending on the individual case, other treatments might be necessary, such as preventing cancer from recurring or if surgery isn’t an option.
- Surgery – The aim of the surgery is to excise the entire adrenal cancer. In order to achieve this, doctors must remove the entirety of the affected adrenal gland (adrenalectomy).
- Medication – A drug ordinarily used to treat advanced adrenal cancer, mitotane (Lysodren), has demonstrated potential in treating patients post-surgery to decrease the likelihood of cancer recurring. If you are at high risk for cancer recurrence, your doctor may prescribe this medication. However, more research needs to be conducted into mitotane’s efficacy for this purpose.
- Radiation therapy – Radiation therapy, which uses high-powered beams of energy like X-rays and protons to kill cancer cells, is sometimes used after adrenal cancer surgery. Radiation therapy can also help reduce pain and other symptoms caused by the spread of cancer to other parts of the body, like bone metastasis.
- Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells and may be an option for treating adrenal cancers that cannot be removed surgically or have returned after initial treatments.
What are the side effects of Adrenal Gland cancer treatment?
The side effects of adrenal gland cancer treatment vary depending on the type of treatment being used. Surgery, for example, may lead to pain, bleeding, and infection. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can cause fatigue, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, and hair loss. Some of these side effects can be mild and temporary, while others may be more severe and long-lasting. It is important to talk to your doctor about what side effects you may experience during treatment so that you can prepare yourself mentally and emotionally. Treatment for adrenal gland cancer can be difficult, but it is important to remember that it is also often successful in treating the disease.
What is the role of radiation therapy in Adrenal Gland Cancer?
Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy waves to kill cancer cells. It can be used alone or in combination with surgery or chemotherapy. Radiation therapy is most commonly used to treat adrenal gland cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. It can also be used to relieve symptoms such as pain or bleeding.
The radiation therapist will work with the patient to determine the best treatment plan. The type and amount of radiation used will depend on the size and location of the tumor, as well as the patient’s overall health. The side effects of radiation therapy vary from person to person but may include fatigue, skin irritation, and nausea. Most side effects go away after treatment is completed.
What is the prognosis for someone with Adrenal Gland cancer?
The occurrence of a primary adrenal gland tumor is extremely rare. In the United States, precise statistics on this illness are not available. The average age of a patient diagnosed with an adrenal gland tumor is 46 years old. Adrenocortical carcinoma can occur at any age, however. Every year, approximately 600 people are diagnosed with this type of cancer.
The 5-year survival rate indicates what proportion of people survive at least five years after being diagnosed with cancer. Percent means how many out of 100. The 5-year survival rate for persons with adrenocortical carcinoma is 50%. However, the rate is determined by a number of things, including the grade (or stage) of the disease when it was discovered.
If this cancer is caught and treated before it has a chance to spread, the 5-year survival rate increases significantly to 74%. In contrast, if cancer has metastasized, the 5-year survival rates are much lower at 56% and 37%, respectively. Fortunately, due to recent advances in technology, more early stage cancers are being detected.
Risk Factors for Adrenal Gland Cancer
There are several risk factors associated with adrenal gland cancer. One of the most common is age, with the majority of cases occurring in people over the age of 60. Gender is also a factor, with women being slightly more likely to develop adrenal gland cancer than men.
Other risk factors include certain genetic conditions, such as multiple endocrine neoplasia type I and II, and prior radiation exposure. In some cases, the exact cause of adrenal gland cancer is unknown. However, by understanding the risk factors, it may be possible to reduce the chances of developing this disease.
How can you reduce your risk of getting Adrenal Gland cancer?
There are a few lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk of developing adrenal gland cancer. First, if you smoke cigarettes, quitting is one of the best things you can do for your health. Second, eating a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight can also lower your risk. Finally, staying active and getting regular exercise have been shown to reduce the risk of many types of cancers, including adrenal gland cancer. By making these simple changes, you can significantly reduce your risk of developing this rare but serious form of cancer.
We are here to help
Adrenal gland cancer is a daunting diagnosis, but you will be in good hands with our experienced team of doctors and nurses. At our facility, we believe that each patient is unique and deserves their own specific care plan. We will take the time to get to know you and your situation so that we can find the best possible treatment option for you.
We can help you through this difficult period by providing a treatment plan that provides the greatest chance for a complete recovery. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or concerns. We’re here to assist you through this difficult time.