The adrenal glands are located in the back of the abdomen, just above the kidneys, near the liver and spleen. Their primary function is to produce hormones that help regulate blood pressure, kidney function, stress responses and some sexual functions. Various types of tumors can form in one or both adrenal glands. They are uncommon, and most are not cancerous ("benign" rather than "malignant").
An MRI or CT scan can help surgeons determine how likely it is that an adrenal tumor is cancerous. Most masses in the adrenal glands are non-cancerous (called "adenomas"), but even these benign adrenal tumors need to be removed because they occasionally cause health problems by creating abnormal hormone levels that lead to:
- High blood pressure and a fast heart rate
- Flushing and sweating
- Decreased levels of potassium
Adrenal tumors can also cause Cushing's disease (also called Cushing's syndrome), a condition that can cause weight gain, fatigue, humping of the shoulder, blue streaks on the abdomen, acne and facial hair.
In the very rare cases of adrenal cancer (also called adrenal carcinoma), tumors may spread to nearby organs, such as the liver, spleen or kidney or to a major nearby blood vessel, the inferior vena cava.
We offer the latest minimally invasive surgical techniques for most adrenal masses
We also offer expertise in open surgery for adrenal cancer when necessary
We partner with endocrinology experts at the University of Arizona to offer a multi-disciplinary team approach to the care of adrenal disorders
Doctors may be able to use medicines to manage hormone problems caused by benign adrenal tumors; however, standard treatment is to remove adrenal tumors — benign or cancerous —or, if necessary, to remove one or both adrenal glands (an adrenalectomy). Note that radiation therapy is not an effective treatment for cancerous adrenal tumors.
Whenever possible, surgeons will remove the tumors or adrenal glands through laparoscopic surgery using a small scope and instruments inserted through small incisions, which causes minimal scarring and lets patients recover more quickly.
If laparoscopic surgery isn't an option, surgeons will perform traditional open surgery. In those rare cases of cancerous adrenal tumors that have spread, surgeons may also need to remove other organs to contain the spread of cancer.