Adrenal cancer is a rare urologic cancer, affecting about 200 Americans a year. It targets the adrenal glands, which are located on top of the kidneys and control production of certain hormones. Most adrenal tumors are non-cancerous (benign) and do not require treatment. We do not know what causes adrenal cancer, though having a family history of the disease is a risk factor. Adrenal cancer can also lead to Cushing’s syndrome and Conn’s syndrome. At Mount Sinai, we have extensive experience with this disease.
Some adrenal cancers produce no symptoms. The ones that do cause fever, constant abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss, breast enlargement in men (gynemasticoma), abnormal hair growth in women or children, abnormal blood sugar/diabetes (hyperglycemia), and early puberty.
Todiagnoseadrenal cancer, we take a detailed medical history and do a physical exam, imaging tests (typically computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging), and blood and urine tests. When necessary, we perform a biopsy to determine if any growths are benign or cancerous.
Treatment for adrenal cancer depends on the stage of the cancer at time of diagnosis and the symptoms you are experiencing. It is important to contain certain symptoms of adrenal cancer before undertaking treatment. We often use medical management to treat these symptoms.
Treatment options include:
- Chemotherapy, which uses drugs to destroy cancer cells or suppress adrenal gland function
- Radiation, which takes advantage of focused X-rays to destroy cancer cells (not a primary treatment)
- Surgery, which involves removing the adrenal gland (the only cure for the disease)
Adrenal glands, like kidneys, come with a back-up. You have two in your body, but only need one to produce the hormones your body needs.
At Mount Sinai, removing an adrenal gland with a laparoscopic procedure is considered the surgical standard of care. Compared to open surgery, laparoscopic procedures often mean a shorter hospital stay, quicker recovery, and less pain. Often, you can go home within 24 hours following surgery.
A second surgical approach, robotic procedures, has become very popular and shows great promise in improving surgical accuracy and efficiency. Michael A. Palese, MD performed the first robotic radical adrenalectomy at Mount Sinai and is a leading expert in this technique.