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Cancer can affect even small glands like the adrenal glands. Adrenal glands are responsible for the production of hormones like cortisol and aldosterone. These glands are located above the kidneys and have two parts; the cortex and the medulla. Adrenal cancer generally affects the cortex of the adrenal glands. This type of cancerous tumour is rare and can be difficult to diagnose.
Most adrenal cancer symptoms are triggered by an excessive production of estrogen and androgen. Symptoms can also be caused by the pressure put on other organs by the tumour. Adrenal cancer symptoms are most easily noticeable in children as this is the stage where the body is changing and developing. Some of these symptoms are:
- Facial hair growth
- Excessive pubic and underarm hair
- An enlarged penis or clitoris
- Early onset of puberty in girls
- Development of enlarged breasts in boys
Symptoms of adrenal cancer in adults includes:
- Excessive weight gain in the abdomen and above the collar bone
- High blood pressure
- Irregular menstruation
- Easy bruising
- Frequent urge to urinate
- Muscle cramps
Additionally, men with adrenal cancer that causes excessive estrogen production may notice an enlargement of breast tissue and tenderness in the area. Women suffering from excessive androgen production triggered by adrenal cancer may notice their voice deepening and facial hair growth. In most cases, adrenal cancer symptoms in women do not appear until the tumour presses on other organs. This includes symptoms like pain around the tumor, a feeling of fullness in the abdomen and difficulty eating because of this feeling.
The cause of adrenal cancer has not yet been determined, but conditions such as Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, familial adenomatous polyposis and multiple endocrine neoplasia can increase a person’s risk of suffering from this disease. A thorough physical examination and a detailed medical history is required to diagnose this disease. The doctor will also need a blood test and urine test. Additional tests that may be required include:
- Biopsy of the tumor
- CT scan
- MRI scan
- PET scan
- Adrenal angiography
Adrenal cancer can be cured if diagnosed in its early stages. There are three types of treatment for adrenal cancer; surgery to remove the adrenal gland, chemotherapy and radiation. However, adrenal cancer can recur and hence it is important to schedule and maintain regular check-ups with a doctor.