The adrenal glands are part of your endocrine system and are located on top of each kidney. Although they are small, they are essential, as they produce hormones that you can’t live without such as aldosterone, cortisol and testosterone. These hormones are responsible for keeping the body in balance and are critical for maintaining good health.

What is Adrenal Cancer?

It is not uncommon for a non-cancerous (benign) tumor to be located in the adrenal glands. However, in rare cases, these tumors can be cancerous. 

Adrenal cancer, or adrenocortical cancer, is diagnosed in approximately 1-2 people per 1 million population each year, most commonly in young adults or in children under the age of 6. This equates to about 300 to 500 people in the U.S. annually.

Malignant tumors in the adrenal gland can result in under or overproduction of essential hormones. 


Benign adrenal lesions or cancerous growths in the adrenal glands may not produce any symptoms, however, in the event that hormone production is altered, an individual may experience one or a combination of the following:

  • Uncontrolled high blood pressure
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Excess body hair
  • Osteoporosis and diabetes
  • Nervousness, anxiety, and tremor
  • Salt and potassium abnormalities

Diagnosis and Treatment

Adrenal cancer is often aggressive, but when found early before the cancer has spread to areas beyond the adrenal gland treatment is likely to be more effective. 

Following a thorough history and physical examination, your doctor may order additional imaging and lab tests including:

  • CT Scan, MRI or ultrasound
  • Urine studies
  • Blood tests
  • X-ray or bone scan
  • Needle biopsy of the mass in some circumstances

The stage of adrenal cancer is determined by the size of the primary tumor, the degree of local invasion, and whether it has spread to regional lymph nodes or distant sites.

Once staging is determined, treatment can be used to delay progression or recurrence. When recommending a treatment plan, your doctor will also consider your age, overall health, and degree of hormonal imbalance.

A treatment plan may include one or more of the following: 

  • Observation: Some growths in the adrenal gland are considered non-functioning adenomas, which are non-cancerous and produce no hormone imbalance. These can often be monitored over time without the need for intervention.
  • Surgery: Surgery is often recommended to remove a cancerous adrenal tumor or a tumor that produces a hormone imbalance. This procedure is often performed laparoscopically. 
  • Medication: Following the removal of an overactive adrenal gland, medication may be needed to help regulate hormone levels. This is usually done by an endocrinologist who specializes in hormone regulation who will consult with your urologist on your treatment plan.

Schedule an Appointment

At Alliance Urology Specialists in Greensboro, our goal is to provide the highest level of specialized care. Our board-certified physicians specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of a variety of conditions, including adrenal cancer. To schedule an appointment, call (336) 274-1114.