Learn About Adrenal Cancer Symptoms
In adults, adrenal cancer usually has no obvious symptoms, which makes it very hard to diagnose in its early stages.Adrenocortical carcinomas are aggressive and spread rapidly. The adrenal gland is one of the most vascular organs in the body, with lots of blood vessels that can carry malignant cells throughout the body. Scientists believe metastasis, or the spread of cancer cells to other organs, begins very early in adrenal cancer.
Sometimes a rapidly growing tumor will cause the adrenal gland to make excessive amounts of certain hormones. Too much aldosterol can cause hypertension or high blood pressure. Too much cortisol can cause rapid weight gain, hypertension or diabetes. Too much sex hormone can cause facial hair in women or breast development in men.
Unfortunately, high blood pressure, weight gain and diabetes are common conditions in middle-aged adults, so the possible connection with an adrenal tumor is often overlooked until it's too late. The key is speed of onset. If these conditions develop rapidly, they can be warning signs of adrenal cancer.
However, if the adrenal tumor is slow-growing and non-functional - meaning it does not affect hormone production - there are no symptoms in early stages of the disease. This type of tumor is sometimes diagnosed "by accident" if the patient has a CT scan for some other reason.
Because this type of cancer is so rare, physicians don't know much about it. Many patients are referred to the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center - one of only a few medical centers in the United States recognized as an international center of excellence for the treatment of adrenal cancer.
Scientists in the UMCCC's adrenal cancer program are studying primitive cells, called stem or progenitor cells, found in the outer cortex of the adrenal gland. They believe defects in these stem cells and the genes that regulate them could be the cause of adrenal cancer. Discovering what goes wrong early in the development of adrenal cancer is the vital first step toward finding better treatments and a cure for this fatal disease.
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