Adrenal tumours are a rare, dense growth of the tissue located above each kidney that cause an overproduction of hormones. Healthy adrenal glands are about the size of a thumb and somewhat triangular in shape. An adrenal tumour usually causes the gland to grow bigger than 4 cm. The tumour disrupts blood chemistry, blood pressure, stress hormones and some sex hormones.
Adrenal Tumours: Causes
Adrenal tumours are rare and most cancers start for unknown reasons. A few cancers are genetic. Regardless of the causes, most tumours are usually benign (and they won’t spread to other parts of the body). However, malignant cancer from other parts of the body can spread to the adrenal glands.
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Adrenal Tumours: Symptoms
Usually tumours cause an overproduction of one or more hormones. Most symptoms vary widely and most people don’t notice their symptoms. Some of the many symptoms that are noticed are:
Cortisol – obesity in the upper body and back, high blood pressure, heart palpitations, fatigue (referred to as Cushings Syndrome).
Aldosterone – salt and potassium imbalances, can cause significant hypertension. (referred to as Conn Syndrome). The low potassium can cause fatigue, numbness, increased urination, increased thirst, muscle cramps and muscle weakness.
Adrenaline, norepinephrine, and epinephrine – very rare anxiety, weight loss, heart palpitations and excessive metabolic activity.
Sex hormones – increased masculine characteristics, low sex drive, irregular menstrual cycles (women) or impotence (men) usually in combination with the symptoms of the overproduction of one or more of the other hormones.
Adrenal Tumours: Figures
Adrenal tumours are rare. They are usually benign. There are two reasons to remove them. If the adrenal gland is producing too much of a hormone (overactive) one of the glands may need to be removed laparoscopically. Sometimes if an adrenal growth is over 4cms in size it may need to be removed due to a higher chance of malignancy with a bigger tumour size. The diagnosis of adrenal problems can be complicated. Usually an endocrinologist is involved. Often there will need to be many blood tests and sometimes a urine collection to confirm the diagnosis.
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