Overview of adrenal glands
The adrenal glands are small glands that sit above the kidneys in the upper abdomen. They produce and release several hormones in the body.
A range of medical conditions can affect the adrenal glands. These include Addison’s disease, Cushing’s syndrome, and adrenal cancer, as well as high blood pressure due to the overproduction of aldosterone.
What are the symptoms of adrenal glands?
People with adrenal gland tumours may experience the following symptoms or signs. Sometimes people with adrenal gland tumours do not have any of these changes or the symptom may be caused by another medical condition other than a tumour.
- Low potassium level
- Heart palpitations
- Feelings of anxiety or panic
- Excessive sweating
- Abdominal pain
- Unexplained weight gain or loss
- Abdominal stretch marks
- Excessive hair growth
- Changes in the genitals
- Abnormal pimples
- Change in libido (sex drive)
Also, pheochromocytoma can cause a dangerous increase in hormones that regulate blood pressure and the body’s response to stress. Hormone increases can cause blood pressure to rise too quickly, increasing the risk of heart attack, stroke, bleeding, or sudden death.
If you are concerned about any changes you may experience, speak with your doctor. Among other things, your doctor may ask you how often and how often you experience symptoms. It helps find the cause of the problem called the diagnosis.
If the tumour is diagnosed, relief of symptoms is an important part of medical care and treatment. This is also known as symptom management, palliative care, or supportive care.
Risk factors of adrenal glands
Any risk factor that makes a person more likely to develop a tumour. Although risk factors often influence tumour development, most do not directly cause it. Some people with multiple risk factors never develop a tumour, while others have no risk factors. However, knowing your risk factors and talking to your doctor about them can help you make more informed decisions about your lifestyle and health care.
The cause of most cancerous tumors of the adrenal glands is unknown. However, people with certain inherited conditions are at increased risk of developing adrenal gland tumours. Hereditary conditions that increase the risk of adrenal gland tumours:
- Multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 (MEN2)
- Li-Fraumeni syndrome
- Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome
- Neurofibromatosis type 1
- Carney Complex
Researchers are still struggling to gather enough evidence before reaching final conclusions about what causes this type of tumor and what people can do to reduce their personal risk.
Diagnosis of adrenal glands
Doctors use many tests to find or diagnose, a tumour. They also do tests to learn if a tumour is cancerous and if it has spread to another part of the body from where it started. If this happens, it is called metastasis. Some tests may also determine which treatments may be the most effective.
To diagnose an adrenal gland tumour, blood and urine tests look for the presence of certain substances to help determine whether the tumour is functional or nonfunctional. A computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan (see below) may be useful in making a diagnosis and evaluating whether an adrenal gland tumour is cancerous. Imaging tests may also be used to find out whether a cancerous tumour has spread. Imaging tests show pictures of the inside of the body. Doctors may also do tests to learn which treatments could work best.
This list describes options for diagnosing this type of tumour, and not all tests listed will be used for every person. Your doctor may consider these factors when choosing a diagnostic test:
- The type of tumour suspected
- Your signs and symptoms
- Your age and medical condition
- The results of earlier medical tests
In addition to a thorough physical examination, the following tests may be used to diagnose an adrenal gland tumor:
Biopsy. A biopsy is the removal of a small amount of tissue for examination under a microscope. If the doctor suspects that cancer has spread to the adrenal gland from another part of the body, a biopsy may be done to find out where cancer began, which can help the doctor plan treatment. If this is necessary a narrow, hollow needle is used to collect the tissue. This is called a fine-needle biopsy or fine-needle aspiration.
The biopsy is performed by a radiologist who uses specialized imaging procedures, such as CT scans, to guide the needle directly into the tumour. A pathologist then analyzes the sample(s) removed during the biopsy. A pathologist is a doctor who specializes in interpreting laboratory tests and evaluating cells, tissues, and organs to diagnose disease.
CT or CAT scan. A CT scan creates a 3-dimensional picture of the inside of the body using x-rays taken from different angles A computer then combines these images into a detailed, cross-sectional view that shows any abnormalities or tumours. Sometimes, a special dye called a contrast medium is given before the scan to provide better detail on the image. This dye is often injected into a patient’s vein through a peripheral intravenous (IV) line. This line is a short, plastic tube inserted into the vein that allows the health care team to give medication or fluids.
MRI. An MRI uses magnetic fields, not x-rays, to produce detailed images of the body. MRI can also be used to measure the tumour’s size. A special dye called a contrast medium is given before the scan to create a clearer picture. This dye can be injected into a patient’s vein or given as a pill to swallow.