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Adrenal Cancer

The adrenal glands are found above each kidney. They produce several hormones, including adrenaline (also known as epinephrine), which is the main blood-pressure raising hormone, and norepinephrine, which is the chemical way that messages are sent across the synapses between nerve cells.

Adrenal tumors occur when cells in the adrenal gland cause an oversupply of certain powerful hormones. This can cause a variety of conditions, from high blood pressure to panic attacks. Only about five percent of tumors that grow inside the adrenal glands are cancerous; 30% of those outside the glands are. Adrenal tumors are usually very small and usually can't be felt by a doctor.

Only about one in 1,000 people are likely to get adrenal cancer. Most commonly, the disease occurs in people between 30 and 60 years of age.


These are possible signs of adrenal cancer:

  • High blood pressure, either all the time or occasionally
  • A fast or pounding heart rate
  • Excessive sweating
  • Light-headedness when standing
  • Fast breathing
  • Flushed or cold and clammy skin
  • Severe headaches
  • Chest and stomach pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Vision disturbances
  • Tingling fingers
  • Constipation
  • Panic attacks

Risk Factors

If you have any of the following conditions, you may be at a higher risk of developing adrenal tumors:

  • Von Hippel-Lindau disease, in which blood vessels grow abnormally
  • Neurofibromatosis, in which fleshy tumors grow on nerves and under the skin
  • Endocrine neoplasia (endocrine tumors), which is an inherited condition


Adrenal cancer can be confirmed by:

  • Lab tests, such as urine tests to measure certain hormone levels.
  • Computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to locate possible tumors
  • An injection of drugs that outline the tumor's location

Depending on the size and location of the tumor treatment of adrenal cancer is usually done with surgery or chemotherapy.

© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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