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Adrenal Cancer

Learn the signs and symptoms of adrenal gland cancer

Adrenal cancer refers to tumors that affect the small glands just above the kidneys, called adrenal glands. These glands regulate endocrinal hormones that help keep your body's processes running smoothly. They are surrounded by connective tissue and fat. Normally, adrenal cancer presents when one or more of these glands are affected by tumors that metastasize, or grow abnormally, and spread to other parts of the body. While many adrenal tumors are benign, or not serious, they can be malignant and dangerous to the body.

Types of adrenal cancer

The most common types of adrenal gland cancer are actually tumors that form from other cancer cells which have originated in other parts of the body. The adrenal glands are the fourth most common place in the body for cancer cells to metastasize to, which makes them secondary tumors. However, some cancers originate within the adrenal glands themselves -- however, this is rare. Functioning adrenal cortical cancers are more common than non-functioning cancers (which means that they secrete an alarming amount of steroids, the first sign of cancer in the body). Neuroblastoma tumors can also appear on the adrenal glands.

Adrenal cancer symptoms

Symptoms of adrenal cancer include elevated blood pressure, excess potassium in the blood, virilization (deepened voice, excess growth of hair), weight gain and water retention resulting in a round face and collection of fat on the back of the shoulders and neck, stretch marks, mood swings and irritability, abdominal pain, mass in abdomen, or increased fullness and weight loss. Because adrenal cancer occupies the hormonal glands, hormonal changes can occur in children and adults.

Treatment for adrenal cancer

Adrenal cancer can be treated surgically, by removing the mass on the glands, or by chemotherapy. Often radiation and other medication are used to remove the tumor. The most successful form of therapy for this cancer is surgery; even if the tumor cannot be completely removed, symptoms decrease dramatically with the removal of even part of the tumor. Life expectancy with this disease depends on the stage in which it is discovered; stage IV adrenal cancer carries a 5-year life expectancy of about 10%, but at this stage, the cancer has likely spread to other parts of the body and will require more aggressive forms of treatment.

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