Adrenal Gland Tumor- Symptoms and Signs


A tumor begins when healthy cells change and grow out of control, forming a mass. A tumor can be cancerous or benign. A cancerous tumor is malignant, meaning it can grow and spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor means the tumor can grow but will not spread.

An adrenal gland tumor can sometimes produce too much of a hormone. When it does, the tumor is called a “functioning tumor.” An adrenal gland tumor that does not produce hormones is called a “nonfunctioning tumor.” The symptoms and treatment of an adrenal gland tumor depend on:

Whether the tumor is functioning or nonfunctioning

Which hormone(s) is produced in excess

Whether the tumor started in the adrenal gland or spread from another organ 

Functional adrenal gland tumors may produce any hormone made in the adrenal gland. In rare cases, they may produce more than 1 hormone.

A primary adrenal gland tumor starts in an adrenal gland. An adrenal gland tumor may also result from a cancer that began in another organ, such as the lungs, and then spread to the adrenal gland through a process called metastasis. Primary adrenal gland tumors include the following:

Adenoma. This is the most common type of adrenal gland tumor. It is a noncancerous, nonfunctioning tumor of the adrenal cortex. An adenoma usually does not cause symptoms and, if it is small, often does not need treatment. Adenoma is also called an adrenocortical adenoma,

Adrenocortical carcinoma. Adrenocortical carcinoma is rare. However, it is the most common type of cancerous adrenal gland tumor. It is also known as adrenal cortical carcinoma. Approximately 4 to 12 out of 1 million people develop this type of tumor, which begins in the adrenal cortex. Adrenocortical carcinoma can be a functioning or nonfunctioning tumor. If the tumor is functioning, it may produce more than 1 hormone.

Neuroblastoma. This is a type of childhood cancer that can begin in the adrenal medulla. Learn more about childhood neuroblastoma.

Pheochromocytoma. This type of neuroendocrine tumor most often begins in the adrenal medulla. Learn more about neuroendocrine tumors.

Symptoms and Signs

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

  • High blood pressure
  • Low potassium level
  • Heart palpitations
  • Nervousness
  • Feelings of anxiety or panic attacks
  • Headache
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Diabetes
  • Abdominal pain
  • Unexplained weight gain or weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Abdominal stretch marks
  • Excessive hair growth
  • Changes in genitalia
  • Unusual acne
  • Change in libido (sex drive)

In addition, 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.

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