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Adrenal (gland) cancer


The adrenal glands are located at the top of each kidney, and have the main job of hormone secretion. An adrenal gland consists of two distinct zones. The first is the cortex area that secretes various hormones: glucocorticoids, hormones which include cortisol and act primarily on organic reactions of carbohydrates, mineralocorticoid aldosterone, which acts on the kidney to balance the amount of sodium and potassium in the body, and some of the androgen hormones, which play a part in the development of male sexual characteristics. The other area is the medulla, which secretes adrenaline and noradrenaline, affecting the heart rate, the contraction or dilation of blood vessels and increase blood pressure. At the level of the adrenal gland, many tumors may exist, some of which are benign, others malignant. Among the malignant tumors, we can distinguish adrenocortical carcinomas that develop in the cortex of the adrenal, and pheochromocytomas, which are found at the medulla. Pheochromocytomas are considered to be mild in 9 cases out of 10.


The symptoms of adrenal cancer depend on the affected area. In the case of adrenocortical carcinoma, signs will be represented by:
  • Cushing's syndrome, associated with increased cortisol secretion and weight gain or obesity, predominantly of the abdomen, high blood pressure, stretch marks on the abdomen, decreased muscle mass ...;
  • aldosteronism, an excessive secretion of aldosterone with high blood pressure, increased urinary excretion and thirst, muscle cramps disorders;
  • hyperandrogenism, an excess of androgen resulting in increased hair growth and masculinization in women.

In case of malignant pheochromocytoma, the symptoms will typically be in the form of:


Following the clinical signs suggestive of a tumor of the adrenal signs, a blood assay of different hormones is necessary to highlight any excess secretion. Further examinations such as a CT scan or an MRI will allow a more clear visualization of the tumor. In cases of a suspected cancerous tumor, staging will point out any migration of cancer cells to other organs.


Like all cancerous tumors, the treatment will be adapted according to the evolution of the tumor, its size, the patient's general condition and results of staging. Most of the time, it consists of surgery aiming to remove the entire tumor, surrounding tissue that may be a carrier of cancer cells and lymph nodes affected by cancer. Radiotherapy and chemotherapy are less frequent in this context.

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