Adrenal cancers are rare, but benign (noncancerous) adrenal tumors are quite common. Even benign adrenal tumors can cause symptoms and require treatment.
What are adrenal tumors?
Adrenal tumors form in the adrenal glands, two glands located above the kidneys. Each adrenal gland has a cortex (an outer layer) and a medulla (an inner region). The cortex releases hormones that affect your metabolism, blood pressure, body shape, hair growth and other physical characteristics. The medulla makes hormones that affect how your body responds to stress. An adrenal tumor — even a noncancerous one — can alter the production of these hormones.
What are the types of adrenal tumors?
Types of adrenal tumors include:
- Aldosteronomas. This type of benign adrenal tumor in the cortex produces too much of the hormone aldosterone. It can cause a condition called Conn’s syndrome, or hyperaldosteronism, which raises blood pressure and lowers potassium level.
- Cortisol producing tumors. These tumors in the cortex produce too much cortisol and can cause a condition called Cushing's syndrome or hypercortisolism, which can cause weight gain, elevated blood sugar, and other symptoms.
- Pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas. Pheochromocytomas produce too much epinephrine and norepinephrine, which help the body deal with stress. Too much of either one can lead to high blood pressure, stroke and other serious health problems.
- Paragangliomas are a type of neuroendocrine tumor found in the abdomen, pelvis, chest, and neck that also produce too much epinephrine and norepinephrine.
- Non-functional adenomas. These are benign nodules within the adrenal gland that do not produce hormones.
- Adrenal cortical carcinomas. These cancerous tumors start in the adrenal cortex, the gland's outer layer. They are quite rare, but are often aggressive and cause troublesome symptoms.
What are the risk factors for adrenal tumors?
Certain hereditary conditions can increase your risk of developing an adrenal gland tumor. Talk to your doctor about your risk. If you are at high risk, be sure to be examined by your doctor every year.