Surgery for adrenal tumors
UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center offers comprehensive, multidisciplinary care for patients with adrenal tumors — including adrenocortical carcinoma, adrenal adenomas, pheochromocytomas, aldosteronomas and cortisol-producing tumors (Cushing’s syndrome) — aimed at preservation of critical functions, prevention of disease recurrence and optimization of quality of life.
Your team of cancer specialists will include experts in endocrine surgery and surgical oncology, who closely collaborate with other health care professionals, including our surgical oncology clinical nurses, medical oncologists, radiologists and endocrinologists.
The body has two adrenal glands; one rests atop each kidney. The outside layer of your adrenal glands (called the cortex) makes three main hormones:
- Cortisol, which regulates your response to stress
- Aldosterone, which helps control your blood pressure
- Androgens and estrogens, which control your reproductive organs
The inner part of the adrenal gland, the adrenal medulla, produces your adrenaline hormones.
Tumors that develop in the adrenal glands may be a cancer (malignant) or benign. Benign tumors are either functioning or nonfunctioning, meaning they either make hormones or do not. One’s symptoms often depend on which hormones an adrenal tumor makes.
Cortisol-secreting tumors – Patients with adrenal tumors that secrete cortisol often have Cushing's syndrome. Patients with Cushing's syndrome frequently present with weight gain, easy bruising, high blood pressure, diabetes, weakness, mood changes and changes in their appearance such as "moon face" (a rounded shape of the face), a ruddy or reddening of the complexion, or "buffalo hump” (a mound of fat at the base of the back of the neck). Some patients are noted to have an elevated cortisol level without symptoms of Cushing's syndrome, which is called subclinical Cushing's syndrome.
Aldosterone-secreting tumors – Patients with an aldosterone-producing adrenal tumor usually have high blood pressure. These tumors are called aldosteronomas.
Pheochromocytoma – A pheochromocytoma is a tumor of the adrenal medulla that produces catecholamines (too much adrenaline). Historically patients with pheochromocytomas would have symptoms of headaches, sweating and heart palpitations, but in modern times many patients are totally asymptomatic.
Adrenocortical cancer is uncommon. The majority of individuals diagnosed are between 50 and 60 years old. People are often diagnosed at a later stage, because signs and symptoms may not be obvious, if they occur at all. Although treatable, adrenocortical cancer has a high recurrence rate.
Often adrenal tumors are found on a CT or MRI scan done for something different. These tumors are often called adrenal “incidentalomas.” Most adrenal incidentalomas are benign, but they must be evaluated by an experienced physician to see if they are secreting hormones or potentially a cancer.
An adrenalectomy, or surgery to remove the adrenal gland, is the primary method of treatment for adrenocortical cancer and functioning adrenal tumors.
Most tumors are typically removed via minimally invasive (laparoscopic) surgery. Patients who have a laparoscopic adrenalectomy are often in the hospital overnight. A tumor known to be cancerous may be removed through either laparoscopic or open surgery. The adrenal gland is removed with the tumor. Individuals can survive with only one adrenal gland.
Depending on the stage of cancer and your specialist’s recommendation, surgery may be followed by radiation and/or chemotherapy treatments.
Campbell MJ, Duh QY. The value of multidisciplinary care in endocrine surgery. World J Endo Surg. 2013 May; 5(2): 5-7.
Oncologists Specializing in Endocrine Cancers
Michael Campbell, M.D.
Assistant Professor of Surgery
Primo Lara, M.D.
Professor of Medicine, Hematology and Oncology
Chong-Xian Pan, M.D. Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Medicine, Hematology and Oncology
Mamta Parikh, M.D., M.S.
Assistant Professor of Medicine, Hematology and Oncology
Michael Corwin, M.D.
Richard J. Bold, M.D.
Chief of Surgical Oncology
Professor of Surgery
Robert J. Canter, M.D.
Associate Professor of Surgery
Scott A. Hundahl, M.D.
Professor of Surgery
Alison Semrad, D.O.