What are Adrenal Tumors?

A typical functional adrenal tumor producing excess aldosterone causing Conn's Syndrome. A typical functional adrenal tumor producing excess aldosterone causing Conn's Syndrome. Tumors are simply abnormal "growths" from an organ, and thus an adrenal tumor is an abnormal growth from an adrenal gland.

Adrenal tumors are common. A tumor simply means a mass. This picture shows a classic adrenal tumor growing within the cortex (outer layer) of the triangular-shaped (similar in size and shape as a fortune cookie) adrenal gland that we removed during a 26-minute Mini Back Scope Scope Adrenalectomy (MBSA). Tumors can be either benign or malignant. In fact, the vast majority of adrenal tumors are benign (not cancer). The older we get, the more likely we are to develop an adrenal tumor. In a 20-year-old only about 0.2% of all individuals have an adrenal tumor, whereas when we get to 70 years old, almost 7% have an adrenal tumor. The good news is that over 95% of adrenal tumors are benign.

Do Adrenal Tumors Cause Symptoms and Problems?

Even though the overwhelming majority of adrenal tumors are benign, many of them cause significant and often dramatic symptoms because they produce excess adrenal hormones. Adrenal tumors that produce hormones always need to be removed because the excess hormones can cause toxic effects to your body, make you feel miserable and cause early death. Too much adrenal hormones such as aldosterone, cortisol and catecholamines (adrenaline-type hormones; epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamin) can create very toxic effects on the body longterm.

Adrenal tumors that make too much hormone are called “functioning” or “endocrine-active” tumors. Aldosterone producing adrenocortical tumors cause primary hyperaldosteronism (also called Conn's Syndrome, whereas cortisol producing adrenocortical tumors cause primary hypercortisolism or Cushing's Syndrome. Catecholamine (epinephrine and adrenaline) producing adrenal tumors cause pheochromocytoma. Any functioning adrenal tumor should be removed by surgery (adrenalectomy).

There are other less common adrenal tumors such as those that are sex-hormone-producing, adrenocortical cancer (ACC) and metastasis to the adrenal gland. We have hundreds of pages of information and nearly 1,000 photos and graphics to help you and your doctor understand every adrenal problem. Please use the navigation tools or the search field to locate anything you want to know about the adrenal glands.

Functional Adrenal Tumors are Common and Produe Too Much Hormones Making You Sick

Adrenal tumors that produce hormones are called "functional" adrenal tumors. That means they are functional as intended to produce hormones--but they just produce too much of the hormone. Most functional adrenal tumors are benign. It is important for you to understand that most functional adrenal tumors are benign (non-cancerous). That means, if your adrenal tumor produces too much cortisol, aldosterone or adrenaline-type hormones (catecholamines) it is almost always benign. We operate on people with adrenal tumors several times per week. Most of these mini-scope operations (Mini Back Scope Adrenalectomy; MBSA) take Dr. Carling about 30 minutes and the patient has only a few small Band-Aids on their lower back.

Typical small Band-Aids after a 23-minute Mini Back Scope Adrenalectomy; MBSA for a functional adrenal tumor causing Conn's Syndrome. Typical small Band-Aids at the patients flank after a 23-minute Mini Back Scope Adrenalectomy; MBSA for a functional adrenal tumor causing Conn's Syndrome.

IMPORTANT: If the adrenal tumor has overproduction of sex-steroid hormones, this almost always occurs in the setting of a cancerous tumor, so is is very important to know which hormones are being produced by the adenal tumor.

Do Functioning Adrenal Tumors Need to be Removed?

Yes, anytime you have a functional tumor, it needs to be removed. Not primarily because of the concern for cancer, but the damage caused to the body due to excess of these "toxic" hormones. You need an adrenalectomy. You can learn more about adrenal surgery on other pages of this website. Dr. Carling is the world's leader in performing mini-surgery for functional adrenal tumors, performing this operation almost every day.

We operate on more people with adrenal tumors than anybody else in the world and we are happy to see you and take care of you if you have an adrenal tumor. Click Here if you want to learn about how to become our patient.



What to read next

  • Have your Adrenal Surgery with Dr. Carling. We have an entire page that will walk you through this process. We take almost all insurance types for the operation, but some people will elect to pay for an Online Second Opinion Consultation with Dr. Carling before traveling to Tampa for the operation.
  • Mini Back Scope Adrenalectomy (MBSA) Dr. Carling is the world's leader at mini-adrenal surgery--performing more in a week than most hospitals and universities perform in a year. Learn more about how 95% of patients can have this very successful, quick operation to remove their adrenal tumor.
  • Standard Adrenal Surgery and Other Adrenal Operations. See the old-fashioned adrenal gland operation that most surgeons in the United States and worldwide perform and why this is not a good choice for almost all patients.