The adrenal glands are the pair of small endocrine glands located above the kidneys. They respond to signals from the nervous system and secrete hormones that regulate stress. The adrenal glands also produce hormones that help maintain metabolism as well as distinguish male and female physical and sexual characteristics.

There are two varieties of tumors that can proliferate on the adrenal glands. Most growths are benign and symptoms are treatable. Malignant adrenal tumors are rare, and generally grow as a result of metastasizing cancer that originated in a different organ.

Risk Factors 

People with certain genetic conditions are at a higher risk for developing adrenal tumors. These include:

  • Li-Fraumeni syndrome
  • Carney Complex
  • Family history of adrenal tumors


Adrenal gland tumors do not always present the same group of symptoms, and may also not cause any symptoms at all. Nevertheless, the following symptoms may be warning signs:

  • Headaches
  • Unusual weight changes
  • Unusual anxiety
  • Heart palpitations or elevated blood pressure
  • Unusual hair growth
  • Disproportionate acne
  • Diminished sex drive
  • Muscle weakness
  • Easy bleeding or bruising


Your doctor can detect the presence of adrenal tumors in the following ways:

  • Biopsy or surgery: This is the most definitive diagnostic method. Doctors examine tissue samples for evidence of cancer.
  • Blood and Urine Tests: The levels of hormones produced under certain circumstances are present in blood and urine and are indicative of possible tumors.
  • Imaging: With either a CT scan or MRI, your physician can verify the existence of an adrenal tumor, as well as determine its exact size and placement.
  • Metaiodobenzylguanidine scan (MIBG): This is a special test administered during the course of 2 days. It is designed to show adrenal tumors that are not evident on other scans. On the first day, a patient gets an injection followed by a scan with a special camera. The next day, the scan is repeated.

After examining the results of one or more of these tests, your doctor may inform you that you have an adrenal tumor. Treatment is based on where the tumor is located, the size and if it is malignant.


The primary types of treatment for adrenal tumors include:

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