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An adrenal tumor is a tumor located in one of the adrenal glands. Many adrenal tumors are benign, sometimes only being diagnosed as part of an examination or imaging study for another condition. There are several treatment approaches for adrenal tumors, depending on the precise location of the tumor and its grade. In some cases, the tumor may be left alone and monitored, while in other instances, it may be necessary to excise the tumor.
The adrenal glands can be found sitting on top of the kidneys. There are two parts to the adrenal gland, both of which can be affected by adrenal tumors. The adrenal medulla lies at the core of the gland, while the adrenal cortex covers the outside. Both parts are responsible for producing a range of hormones, including endocrine hormones.
Like other tumors, an adrenal tumor is characterized by the controlled growth of cells. Under normal conditions, the human body's cells are constantly copying themselves and dying off. In the case of a tumor, cells start copying at an increased rate, and they do not die off or go dormant as quickly, resulting in the formation of a neoplasm, a mass of tissue which may be benign, meaning that it will not spread, or malignant, in which case it could travel to surrounding parts of the body.
Often, doctors realize that a patient has an adrenal tumor because symptoms related to the overproduction of hormones arise. These symptoms can include weight gain, hirsutism, tender abdomen, the development of breasts, fatigue, and irregularities with the menstrual cycle. An excess of hormones can be identified in blood testing, leading a doctor to suspect that an imbalance in hormone production may have emerged, in which case additional tests to look for an adrenal tumor may be ordered.
Medical imaging studies can be used to look for an adrenal tumor, and a biopsy sample can also be taken for study. The sample can be used to confirm that the tissue is a tumor, and to grade the tumor to give an idea of malignancy. If the tumor is benign, it may be left in place and monitored, and drugs may be used in an attempt to regulate hormone levels. Malignant tumors need to be removed, and the gland may be taken out as well to prevent recurrence of the tumor, in which case replacement hormones may be a part of the treatment plan.