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Adrenal Cancer Symptoms & Diagnosis


Approximately 40% of adrenocortical carcinoma do not secrete any hormone. These do not have any specific symptoms. They are discovered either by accident or as part of an evaluation of abdominal pain.

Other tumors are functional. This means are hormonally active. Excess hormones may produce symptoms such as:

Other conditions that may result from functional tumors of the adrenal cortex include:
  • Cushing’s syndrome (Hypercortisolism)—30% of cases—excess cortisol which helps the body respond to stressful situations and infections
  • Conn’s syndrome (Hyperaldosteronism)—2% of cases—excess aldosterone, which helps the body maintain normal levels of sodium and potassium
  • Virilization (20% of cases)—women with functional tumors that release males hormones; may deepen voice, cause hirsutism (growing excess hair on the face) , and swelling of the sex organs or breasts may occur
  • A mixed Cushing’s syndrome and virilization accounts for 35% of all cases
  • In young children with functional tumors that release sex hormones, these tumors may cause early onset of puberty

These symptoms may be caused by other health conditions. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should see a doctor.


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, and medical and family history. A physical exam will be done.

Tests may include the following:

  • Blood tests to look for hormones from the adrenal glands
  • Urine tests (24 hour cortisol)
  • CT scan of the abdomen —a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside the abdomen
  • MRI of the abdomen —a test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of structures inside the abdomen
  • PET scan—a test that uses radioactive glucose to identify the location of tumors in the body
  • Adrenal angiography and/or venography—tests that use contrast dye to help confirm the presence of tumors that may be blocking blood vessels; a blood sample may be obtained to check hormone levels
  • X-ray —a test that uses radiation to take a picture of structures inside the body

Once cancer of the adrenal cortex is confirmed, you will be referred to an oncologist. This type of doctor focuses on cancer.

Further testing to determine what stage (1-4) the cancer has reached. The stage of a tumor is determined by its size and how far it has spread from its point of origin. At the time of diagnosis, 30%-85% of patients are found to have cancer that has spread. The higher the stage, the more dangerous and difficult it is to treat.

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Copyright © 2023 EBSCO Publishing All rights reserved.

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