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What Is Adrenal Cancer?
The body has two adrenal glands and each rests on top of a kidney. Their name is derived from their location on top of (ad-) the kidneys, which are part of the body’s renal system. The adrenal gland participates in the regulation of many processes in the body and each gland has two component parts: a cortex (the outside) and a medulla (the inside). The majority of adrenal cancers develop in the cortex and are known as adrenocortical carcinomas.
Signs and Symptoms of Adrenal Cancer
The following may be indicative of adrenal cancer but may also be indicative of other illnesses:
- Abdominal discomfort, pain, or pressure
- Abnormal, unexplainable weight loss
- A sensation of a mass
It is important you tell your doctor if you have any of these signs and symptoms, so he or she may determine their cause and plan treatment, if necessary.
How Is Adrenal Cancer Detected?
Our specialists collect information regarding medical history, surgical history, social history, and family history; conduct laboratory testing, and review radiological studies to approach patient care in the most comprehensive and personalized manner.
If adrenal cancer is suspected, a doctor will likely order imaging to help arrive at a diagnosis. Imaging might include a CT scan, PET scan, PET-CT scan, ultrasound, or MRI. A CT (computed tomography) scan uses X-rays to generate a three-dimensional picture of the body whereas a PET (positron emission tomography) scan uses a small amount of radioactive tracer to locate any cancer cells by how readily they take up the radiotracer. A PET-CT combines the features of a CT scan with those of a PET scan. An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) uses magnetic fields to generate a detailed representation of the body. Lastly, an ultrasound sends sound waves through the body to generate images of the body’s organs and tissues.
If upon review of your results your doctor notices a mass suspicious for adrenal cancer, he or she will likely order a biopsy in order to make a diagnosis and plan treatment, if necessary.
What Causes Adrenal Cancer?
Adrenal cancer develops as a result of changes to the genetic material within adrenal cells. These changes result in the pattern of cell growth and division characteristic of adrenal cancer. Although the increased likelihood of developing adrenal cancer is associated with the following factors, according to the American Cancer Society, in most cases, physicians and scientists are still trying to determine what causes adrenal cancer to develop:
- Family history of certain cancers
- Personal history of certain cancers
- Exposure to certain chemical substances
- Genetic mutations
Stages of Adrenal Cancer
“Staging” occurs when a physician uses to test and scan results to determine which parts of the body are involved by cancer, in this case, adrenal cancer. Staging is important because different stages of adrenal cancer are better addressed with treatments that may differ in amount, combination, or type. According to the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC), the stages for adrenocortical carcinoma are as follows:
This stage describes adrenal cancer that is no greater than 5 cm and isolated to one adrenal gland.
Cancer has grown larger than 5 cm but, as in Stage I only involves one of the two adrenal glands and has not spread to other parts of the body.
Cancer may involve the fat, organs, or lymph nodes in the area of the body surrounding the adrenal gland in which cancer originated.
In this stage, cancer has spread to parts of the body distant from where it began, such as different organ systems.
How Is Adrenal Cancer Treated?
Treatment of adrenal cancer, depending on the stage and type, may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and/or surgery. These treatments may be used individually or in combination based on your doctor’s recommendations. It’s important to discuss all of your treatment options with your doctor to help make the decision that best fits your needs. Some important factors to consider when deciding on an adrenal cancer treatment plan include
- Your age, health, and lifestyle.
- The stage of your cancer.
- Any other serious health conditions you have.
- Your feelings about the need to treat cancer right away.
- Your doctor’s opinion about if you need to treat cancer right away.
- The likelihood that treatment will help fight or cure your cancer.
- Possible side effects of each treatment method.
You may feel the need to make a quick decision, but it is very important to ask questions if there is anything about which you’re not entirely sure. It is very important for you and your doctor to communicate and work together to weigh the benefits of each treatment option against the possible adverse effects in order to ultimately determine which treatment option is best for you.