Early Signs of Adrenal Cancer: Everything You Need to Know


Adrenal cancer or adrenocortical carcinoma is a rare type of cancer affecting 300 people in the United States every year. While these statistics might not seem daunting, the numbers are increasing rapidly and can seriously impact health. Thus, it is crucial to understand adrenal cancer, its causes, and its symptoms for quick diagnosis and effective treatment.

This blog explores adrenal cancer, its causes, and its symptoms, including early signs that allow you to take proactive measures.

Understanding Adrenal Cancer

Adrenocortical Carcinoma (ACC) originates in the outer layer of the adrenal gland, called the adrenal cortex. The adrenal glands are on the top of each kidney and are mainly responsible for hormone production, such as cortisol, aldosterone, and androgens. An increase in the mass of the adrenal gland is a tumor. Though adrenal tumors are non-cancerous, abnormal mass growth leads to adrenal cancer that spreads to other body parts if left untreated.

Types of Adrenal Gland Cancer

Based on the severity, there are mainly three types of adrenal cancers.

  • Neuroblastomas:

    Mostly forms in the nerve cells. However, some cases may originate from the medulla and typically affect children below 10.

  • Adrenocortical Carcinoma (ACC): 

    The most common adrenal cancer, also known as adrenal cortex cancer. This can cause severe health concerns.

  • Pheochromocytoma: 

    This adrenal gland cancer starts in the cells that produce adrenaline in your medulla, and can severely affect your blood pressure and heart rate.

Early Signs and Symptoms of Adrenal Cancer

The early adrenal gland cancer signs might not be noticeable. However, there are certain things you should be mindful about:

  • Abdominal Pain:

    Confined pain in the back, usually near the kidney. It may become persistent or even worse over time.

  • Weight Loss:

    Adrenal gland hormone imbalance affects the digestion and absorption of nutrients, leading to unexplained weight loss.

  • Hormonal Changes:

    Elevated blood pressure, irregular menstrual cycle, and excessive hair growth.

  • Weakness and Fatigue:

    Weak muscle, low blood pressure, and fatigue are symptoms of low hormone production.

  • Improper Blood Sugar Levels:

    Affected insulin and glucose metabolism might indicate adrenal cancer.

Other adrenal gland cancer symptoms that you could watch out for may include:

  • The feeling of fullness in your stomach
  • Purplish stretch marks
  • Slow healing of bruised skin
  • Signs of early puberty
  • Lumps between your neck and shoulder
  • Extra breast fat in men

Who Is Most Likely to Get Adrenal Gland Cancer?

Although these are rare, adrenal gland cancers are most likely to affect children below 5 years and adults in their 40s and 50s. Also, individuals with certain risk factors are more susceptible:

  • Inherited Genetic Syndromes:

    About 15% of adrenal cancers are caused by inherited genetic syndromes like Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia, type 1 (MEN1), etc.

  • History of Cancer:

    Individuals with a history of cancer in the family are at high risk of developing adrenal cancer.

  • Exposure to Certain Toxins:

    Certain chemicals like asbestos, UV rays, or viruses cause adrenal cancer.

Diagnosis of Adrenal Cancer

Diagnosing adrenal cancer involves a series of steps to confirm the source. Here are the key points in the diagnosis process:

  • Medical History

    • Assessing a patient's history, including the family members.

    • Gathering information about menstrual or sexual function.

    • Understanding the symptoms, factors, and intensity of adrenal cancer.

  • Physical Examination

    • Check for the amount of adrenal hormone through a range of blood and urine tests.

    • Thorough examination of the abdomen to look for the tumor mass.

  • Imaging Tests

    • X-ray of the chest to detect if the cancer has spread to the lungs.

    • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) obtains detailed brain and spinal cord images.

    • CT scan provides a better view to confirm the location and spread of cancer.

    • PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scan, done in conjunction with a CT scan to help reveal the metabolic or biochemical function of your tissues and organs.

  • Other Tests

    • A laparoscope is inserted through a small surgical opening to view adrenal tumors and check if it's possible to remove the cancer by surgery.

    • Small cancerous tissue is removed and examined under a microscope in a biopsy.

Importance of Early Detection

Every health condition shows some signs and warnings. Assessing and evaluating cancer symptoms will make a difference between successful treatment and prolonged suffering.

The most significant outcome of early detection is that it can provide you with practical support and the most effective treatment for a long life. Thus, early diagnosis can improve the quality of life for patients by providing prompt treatment and support, which can improve their overall health and prevent recurrence.

Final Thoughts

Adrenal gland cancer, stemming from the adrenal gland, can significantly affect one's life by influencing several body functions. Underestimating or delaying these factors may impact your overall health and wellness. Consult a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment if you experience any of the discussed symptoms. Adequate treatment, following preventive measures, and simple lifestyle adjustments are ways to treat and manage your adrenal cancer.

Get High-Quality Diagnosis and Treatment for Adrenal Cancer at Far North Surgery

If you are facing the challenges of adrenal cancer, visit us at Far North Surgery in Anchorage, Alaska. We specialize in diagnosing and treating adrenal cancer using advanced technology. Our team of expert and compassionate surgeons, led by Dr. Madhu Prasad, provides comprehensive and personalized care for adrenal cancer that requires surgery.

Contact us today to gain a clear understanding of treatment options.

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