Adrenal cancer is a cancer that can occur in one or both of the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are the small, triangular glands that are located on the top of the kidneys. These glands are responsible for giving instructions to every organ in your body. Adrenal cancer is very rare. Another name for adrenal cancer is adrenocortical cancer. It is most common in children under the age of five years old and adults that are in their 40s and 50s. If this cancer is found early enough, then there is a good chance that it will be cured. The problem arises when the cancer has spread to other areas past the adrenal glands. The best treatments are used to delay progression or stop it from coming back. Most commonly, growths that occur in the adrenal glands are benign. These benign tumors can also be called adenoma or pheochromocytoma.
The adrenal gland is made up on two parts. The outer part is also known as the cortex. The cortex is where most of the tumors develop because this is responsible for making certain hormones for the body. The inner part of the adrenal gland is also known as the medulla. The medulla is an extension of the nervous system. The nervous system hormones, like norepinephrine or epinephrine, also called adrenaline, are made here in the medulla. Tumors or cancer that begins in the adrenal medulla are neuroblastomas or pheochromocytomas, which are typically a benign tumor.
There are two main types of adrenal cortex tumors. Adenomas are benign or non-cancerous. The other type is called carcinomas which are cancerous or malignant. They can be difficult to tell apart when they are examined under the microscope. Sometimes the only way to tell is to see if it spreads to other parts of the body, to areas such as the lymph nodes. Adenomas will not spread to outside of the adrenal gland.
There are a variety of signs and symptoms that occur with adrenal cancer. One might notice weight gain, pink/purple stretch marks, and muscle weakness. Other symptoms may include: nausea, fever, back pain, vomiting, abdominal bloating, loss of appetite, or loss of weight without trying.
Some symptoms that are specific to the different genders are hormonal changes. These changes can include excess facial hair, hair loss on the head, or irregular periods. Hormonal changes that occur in men include enlarged breast tissue and shrinking testicles.
It is unknown as to the true cause of Adrenal Cancer. This type of cancer occurs when there are changes in the DNA of the adrenal gland cell. The instructions for what a cell are supposed to do are contained in the DNA. These mutations are causing the cell to multiply rapidly and they continue to live even though they are not supposed to. When all of these changes are occurring, then the tumor forms. After the tumor forms, the cells break away and spread, also known as metastasize, to various parts of the party.
Most cancer that is found in the adrenal gland is did not originate there and are not truly adrenal cancers. In most cases, they started in other organs of the body and have spread through the bloodstream into the adrenal glands. In cases such as lung cancer, melanomas, and breast cancer, often spread to the adrenal glands. Cancer is named and treated based solely on the place where they started.
The main risk factors that are associated with Adrenal Cancer are inherited syndromes that increase the risk of various cancers. Some of these inherited syndromes include things such as: multiple endocrine neoplasia, Lynch syndrome, Carney complex, Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, or Li-Fraumeni syndrome.
The first step to diagnosing adrenal cancer is a laboratory test, which tests your blood and urine. This type of test will reveal unusual levels of the hormones that are to be produced by the adrenal glands. These hormones are also known as cortisol, aldosterone, and androgens.
After the lab testing is complete, your physician may recommend a variety of imaging tests. These tests may include: a CT, and MRI, or a PET scan. These imaging tests will help to see and understand what types of growths are occurring on the adrenal glands. This is also a good way to see if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. The most common areas that will be affected are the lungs and the liver.
If your physician believes that you do have adrenal cancer, then it may be recommended that you remove the adrenal gland. The gland can then be further analyzed by a pathologist, or a physician that studies body tissues. Once this testing is complete, your physician will be able to confirm if it was adrenal cancer and will be able to see what types of cells were involved.
The best type of treatment for adrenal cancer usually involves surgery to remove all of the cancer. There are various other types of treatments that we will discuss here. The other types of treatments really focus on preventing cancer from coming back, especially when surgery is not an option.
The main goal of surgery is to remove the adrenal cancer. In order for this to occur, your physician must perform an adrenalectomy, which is also known as removing the affected adrenal gland. If during surgery your physician sees that the cancer has then spread to other parts of the nearby structures, then they will also remove those organs. The most commonly affected organs include the liver or the kidneys.
For people that have a high risk of the cancer coming back or recurring, your physician may recommend an older drug that has been seen to treat advanced adrenal cancer, such as Mitotane or Lysodren. This drug particularly works well in delayed the recurrence of cancer coming back after surgery.
Radiation therapy works by using the high-powered beams of energy to kill the cancer cells. This type of treatment may be used to kill any cells that may remain after the adrenal surgery. It is also commonly used in cases where the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, especially when the cancer has spread to the bones.
Chemotherapy is a drug treatment that works by using chemicals to kill the remaining cancer cells. Physicians will typically use chemotherapy when the cancer is not able to be removed with surgery or if the cancer returns after the initial treatments.
It is important to find out what works best for you when coping with the uncertainty that comes with adrenal cancer. In most cases, people find comfort in finding out more about adrenal cancer. By learning more about this specific type of cancer, you will be able to make the best and most informed decisions about your care. It is essential to take a list of questions that you may have to your doctor’s visits. You may have questions about test results, treatment options, or something that you have researched and need more information on. As you learn more and more, you will become comfortable in make the best decisions for you.
It is also important to lean on your friends and family during this time. They will be able to provide support during this time. It is also important to find someone that has gone through something similar to what you have. Find someone who has gone through cancer or join a support group. You may also look for a friend that has a listening ear and will be willing to let you talk through your decisions or fears.
Be ready for every doctor’s appointment by keeping a notebook of symptoms or questions that you may have. You may also want to write down any specific instructions that are associated with testing or scheduling that may occur. Keep a notebook full of any changes that you are noticing, even if you feel that they are not related. Your physician will want to ask you many questions during your appointments, so the clearer and more precise the information you are able to give, the smoother your appointment will go. This will also lead to better care.
Adrenal cancer is very rare and is typically easy to treat through surgery removal of the adrenal glands. There is no real cause of this type of cancer, except for a variety of inherited diseases that go along with adrenal cancer. The best type of treatment for adrenal cancer is to have the adrenal glands removed. If surgery is not possible, then your physician may recommend chemotherapy or radiation. This is most common if surgery did not remove all of the affected tissues. During your treatment and diagnosis, it is important to find people to talk with. This can be friends, family, or someone who has gone through a cancer diagnosis as well. This can be a stressful time, but it is important to take care of yourself.
To request an appointment with Urology, call 251-343-9090. To request an appointment with Radiation Oncology, call 251-414-5665.