An adrenal mass is a mass located within or arising from the adrenal gland. Although the adrenal gland is located just above the kidneys, these glands have a different set of important functions in the body. The primary function of the adrenal glands is the secretion of hormones and adrenaline. Tumors in these glands can be benign, “functional”, or malignant.
The vast majority of adrenal masses are non-functioning benign adenomas. They may be referred to as “incidentalomas”. They do not produce any hormones, are not cancers, and are found “incidentally” on a CT or MRI. Typically, these are simply observed over time as they do not require removal.
Rarely, we find “functioning” adrenal masses which produce excess levels of certain hormones. These are rare and most often produce cortisol or Aldosterone. Cortisol-producing tumors can cause symptoms such as:
- Weight gain, usually greatest above the collar bone, in the cheek area (moon face), and around the abdomen
- Fat deposits behind the neck and shoulders (fatty hump or buffalo hump)
- Purple stretch marks on the abdomen
- Excessive hair growth on the face, chest, and back in women
- Menstrual irregularities
Aldosterone producing tumors cause symptoms such as:
- High blood pressure
- Muscle cramps
- Low blood potassium levels
Adrenal cancers are rare. There are probably 200 diagnosed a year in the United States. They are often associated with inherited syndromes which are very uncommon.