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types of cancer

Adrenal gland cancer

Overview

Adrenal cancer is a rare cancer that begins in one or both of the small, triangular glands (adrenal glands) located on top of your kidneys. Adrenal glands produce hormones that give instructions to virtually every organ and tissue in your body. Adrenal cancer, also called adrenocortical cancer, can occur at any age. Adrenocortical carcinoma could either be a functioning or non-functioning tumour. If the tumour is functioning, it may produce more than one hormone.

Symptoms

People with adrenal cancers may experience the following symptoms or signs. Sometimes, those with adrenal cancers do not have any of these changes. Or, the cause of a symptom may be another medical condition that is not a tumour.

  • Weight gain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Pink or purple stretch marks on the skin
  • Hormone changes in women that might cause excess facial hair, hair loss on the head and irregular periods
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Loss of weight without trying
  • Hormone changes in men that might cause enlarged breast tissue and shrinking testicles
  • Nausea
  • Back pain
  • Causes

    Although there is no sufficient information on what causes adrenal cancer. Adrenal cancers are seen among those with inherited syndromes that raise the risk of certain cancers. Following are some of the inherited syndromes:

  • Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome
  • Carney complex
  • Li-Fraumeni syndrome
  • Lynch syndrome
  • Multiple endocrine neoplasia, type 1 (MEN 1)
  • Diagnosis

    Tests and procedures used to diagnose adrenal cancer are suggested based on the symptoms experienced by the patient. Following are common diagnostic procedures used to detect and confirm adrenal cancer:

    Blood and urine tests: Blood and urine tests are performed to check abnormal levels of cortisol, aldosterone and androgens/ oestrogens, which could point towards adrenal cancer.

    Imaging tests: The doctor may recommend ultrasound, CT, MRI or PET scans to better understand any growths on your adrenal glands, to analyse the size and exact location of the tumour and to see if cancer has spread to other areas of your body, such as your lungs or your liver.

    Biopsy: A biopsy has a critical role in learning if the tumour is benign or cancerous. A biopsy is only done in an adrenal cancer patient if the tumours are present on the outside of the adrenals and the doctor needs to know if these tumours are from the adrenal cancer or are caused by some other cancer or disease.

    Treatment

    Surgery: The doctor may recommend a procedure called adrenalectomy, which involves removing the adrenal gland. If the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, the surgeon may also remove nearby lymph nodes and tissue. Laparoscopy is another surgical procedure through which the adrenal tumours are removed through a thin, hollow, lighted tube called a laparoscope. This is a minimally-invasive procedure that helps the patients recover at a faster rate.

    Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells and stop new cancer cells from growing. However, this is not the main treatment line and is used along with chemotherapy and surgery to enhance the efficacy of the treatment.

    Chemotherapy Depending on the stage of the cancer, the patient may need to undergo chemotherapy. This form of cancer drug therapy helps stop the growth of cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be administered orally or injected into a vein or muscle. The doctor may combine chemotherapy with other types of cancer treatments.

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