Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Adrenal cancer symptoms

The adrenal glands are a production center for regulatory hormones such as adrenaline and cortisone. For this reason, many of the symptoms of adrenal cancer are related to hormonal imbalances resulting from tumors secreting too much or too little of a particular hormone.

A large percentage of tumors on the adrenal glands are benign. These tumors may grow very large and put pressure on nearby organs like the stomach, but they do not spread to other parts of the body. In such cases, patients may experience a feeling of fullness and unexplained weight loss. In the small percentage of cases when adrenal tumors are malignant, symptoms may not become apparent until the cancer has progressed to advanced stages.

If symptoms are present, they will vary depending on the functional status of the tumor and the kind of hormone secreted. Often, the warning signs of adrenal cancer are not obvious or the symptoms seem unrelated. For this reason, it is difficult to diagnose adrenal cancer in its early stages. Blood and urine tests may help detect elevated hormone levels. However, physicians more often find an adrenal tumor during a scan for an unrelated condition.

cancer symptoms

Adrenal cancer symptoms

General signs of adrenal cancer include:

  • Fever
  • A noticeable lump in the abdomen
  • Persistent pain (pressure of tumor on organs)
  • Feeling of "fullness" (caused by a tumor pressing against the stomach)
  • Unexplained weight loss

Adrenal diseases & related symptoms

Many of the symptoms of adrenal cancer may appear harmless at first. Certain sets of symptoms will arise from the excess production of hormones and are characteristic of specific endocrine conditions. Conn's disease and Cushing's syndrome are conditions resulting from tumors secreting too much of a particular hormone. In most cases, these tumors are benign and the condition is treatable.

Conn's disease (or Conn's syndrome) is an adrenal disease caused by excessive production of the hormone aldosterone. Produced in the adrenal cortex, aldosterone is one of the steroid hormones in the mineralocorticoid family. Aldosterone is responsible for regulating electrolytes and, as in the case of Conn's disease, when aldosterone becomes more active, sodium levels in the blood may increase and affect blood pressure. Unregulated, the increased sodium can lead to high blood pressure (hypertension). Excessively high blood pressure could be life threatening.

Symptoms associated with Conn's disease include:

  • Low potassium levels
  • High blood pressure
  • Frequent urination
  • Excessive thirst

Cushing's syndrome develops when a functioning adrenocortical tumor produces excess cortisol. Also produced in the adrenal cortex (the outer part of the gland), cortisol is involved in several important functions, most notably as the "stress response" hormone. Cortisol also plays a significant role in regulating blood pressure and metabolic function. Prolonged high levels of cortisol will affect how the body performs these vital tasks.

The effects are expressed through a variety of symptoms including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Skin disorders (acne or severe dryness; the appearance of stretch marks on the abdomen, thighs, breasts or arms)
  • Weight gain (around the chest and stomach)
  • Bloated face and neck (sometimes called "moon face")
  • A fatty hump on the back of the neck/upper back
  • Excessive hair growth on a woman’s face, chest and back
  • Amenorrhea (absent or irregular menstruation)
  • Muscle weakness and fatigue
  • Decreased growth rates in children

Understanding cancer symptoms

These symptoms may be attributed to a number of conditions other than cancer. If you notice any cancer signs or symptoms, it's important to visit your doctor for an accurate diagnosis.

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