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Adrenal Gland Tumors (Pheochromocytoma)

Our Approach to Pheochromocytoma

MD Anderson’s Endocrine Center has one of the nation’s few programs dedicated to providing personalized care for benign (not cancer) and malignant (cancer) adrenal gland tumors, a group of complex and diverse disorders. Many doctors outside MD Anderson are not familiar with adrenal gland tumors, and most see only a few cases over their careers.

Our renowned experts diagnose and treat hundreds of patients with adrenal gland tumors each year, giving us a remarkable level of experience and expertise that translates into exemplary care. Your personal team of specialists, which may include endocrinologists, surgeons, nuclear medicine physicians, medical oncologists and radiation oncologists, meets regularly and communicates closely. They work together – and with you – to be sure you receive the best care.

Advanced diagnosis and research

Accurate diagnosis of adrenal gland tumors is often challenging, and it requires a high degree of skill and experience. MD Anderson’s excellent laboratories provide a range of specialized approaches, including radiographic scanning, adreno-venous sampling and biochemical testing, to diagnose and determine the extent of disease. And, since many adrenal gland tumors are inherited, we offer comprehensive genetic testing and counseling.

Your treatment at MD Anderson includes the most-advanced methods with the least impact on the body, including targeted therapies and nuclear medicine approaches. If surgery is necessary, our skillful surgeons are often able to perform less-invasive procedures.

Because some adrenal gland tumors are rare, clinical trials can be difficult to find. As one of the nation’s premier programs, we offer research studies of innovative advancements that may be your best treatment option for certain

adrenal gland tumors, such as adrenal cancer and malignant pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas.

If you have been diagnosed with an adrenal gland tumors, we’re here to help. Call 1-877-632-6789 to make an appointment or request an appointment online.

Why Choose MD Anderson?

  • Advanced treatment of adrenal gland tumors
  • High level of experience with complex adrenal gland tumors
  • Team approach includes highly trained, specialized endocrinologists, surgeons and experts
  • Leading-edge adrenal gland tumor treatments include laparoscopic surgery, targeted therapies, nuclear medicine agents
  • Clinical trials of new treatments for some adrenal diseases

Adrenal Gland Tumors Knowledge Center

Treatment at MD Anderson

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Adrenal Gland Tumor Facts

The adrenal glands are part of the endocrine system, which releases hormones into the blood system. Hormones are important in many body processes, including metabolism, sexual development and puberty, and stress.

There are two adrenal glands, one on the top of each kidney. They are shaped like triangles, and each is about a ½ inch high and 3 inches long.

Each gland has two parts:

Medulla: The inner part of the adrenal gland. It makes hormones called catecholamines, which include adrenaline and noradrenaline. These “stress hormones” increase alertness, strength and speed in an emergency. They also affect heart rate, blood pressure and sweating.

Cortex: The outer part of the adrenal gland. It makes:

  • Mineralocorticoid hormones that affect blood pressure, and salt and acid-base potassium balance
  • Androgens
  • Glucocorticoids, such as cortisol, that regulate stress and metabolism, and play a part in the use of fats
  • Hormones that play a part in the use of fats, carbohydrates and protein

Adrenal Gland Tumor Types

Adrenal gland tumor can be malignant (cancer) or benign (not cancer). Even benign adrenal gland tumor can be dangerous or cause uncomfortable symptoms.

Malignant Adrenal Gland Tumors

Adrenocortical Cancer, which originates in the cortex of the adrenal gland. It is a rare cancer, affecting only about 300 to 500 people each year in the United States. There are two main types of adrenocortical cancer:

Functioning is the most common type and accounts for about 70% of adrenal cancers. These tumors make hormones, such as cortisol, androgens or aldosterone.

Non-functioning tumors do not produce hormones.

Malignant pheochromocytomas begin in the medulla. They are extremely rare, and only about 800 cases are diagnosed each year in the United States.

Malignant paragangliomas, which may begin inside or outside the adrenal gland.

Benign Adrenal Gland Tumors

Adenomas, a type of non-cancerous tumor.

Benign pheochromocytomas

Benign paragangliomas

Cushing’s Syndrome, in which the adrenal gland produces an excess of cortisol, a hormone that plays a part in regulating blood pressure, heart function and the body’s reaction to stress. Cushing’s syndrome is rare. About two to four new cases per 1 million people are diagnosed in this country each year. Overproduction of cortisol may be caused by:

  • A benign tumor on the adrenal gland called an adenoma
  • An abnormality of the pituitary gland, usually a tumor (also called Cushing’s disease)
  • Long-term use of corticosteroid medications (such as prednisone)
  • Benign or malignant tumors in other areas of the body that produce adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) (ectopic ACTH syndrome)

Hyperaldosteronism, which is caused by a small tumor in the adrenal gland that makes too much aldosterone or an enlargement (hyperplasia) of the adrenal glands. A high level of aldosterone plays a part in the body’s salt and potassium balance, and may cause high blood pressure. In fact, it is believed that 10% of people with high blood pressure have hyperaldosteronism.

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