Benign adrenal tumors are non-cancerous clumps of cells that form in the adrenal glands, which are located above each kidney and make hormones that help your entire body function. These hormones include adrenaline, steroids like cortisol, and aldosterone that control nearly all your organs. Because the tumors are benign, they won’t spread to other parts of your body.
While benign tumors are usually not worrisome, their growth in the adrenal glands may impact hormone production. Sometimes this is minimal, but in extreme cases it can be life threatening.
Since the hormones produced in the adrenal glands control a wide range of functions throughout the body, you could experience any of a number of symptoms related to too much production of a specific hormone. These could include high blood pressure, heart palpitations, weight loss or gain, anxiety, or overall weakness. Changes in your sex drive or in the appearance of your genitals can also indicate an issue with hormone production.
Hormones that regulate blood pressure and response to stress can be especially dangerous if they become unregulated. You could be at risk of a heart attack or stroke. Any time you begin to experience unexpected changes to your body, it’s a good idea to consult a medical professional to determine if the changes are related to issues with hormone production or adrenal function.
Doctors do not know what the exact causes of benign adrenal tumors (also known as adrenal adenomas) are. Most cases happen sporadically in individuals with no tumors in their family’s medical history prior to being diagnosed.
In some cases, though, some people who have previously been diagnosed with conditions arising from genetic mutations develop the tumors as well. These conditions can cause multiple benign adrenal tumors to occur over the course of a person’s life.
Currently, there are no definitively known risk factors for developing benign adrenal tumors outside of the hereditary conditions listed above. While lowering the risk for most kinds of cancer cannot hurt, researchers have found many of the risk factors for them do not apply to these tumors. They do suggest, though, that smoking is one factor that could potentially be linked to their development.
Most benign adrenal tumors never cause problems, or are manageable with medication to supplement or reduce hormone production. Your doctor may prescribe hormone therapy and test you regularly for any changes to your hormones. In other cases, surgery may be the best treatment option. Your surgeon can remove the benign tumor, although sometimes healthy adrenal tissue must be removed as well.
Some adrenal tumors may be caused by a genetic condition, so you may also decide to undergo testing to see if there is an inherited endocrine issue.
Most cases of this condition are sporadic and exact causes of the tumors are unknown in those cases. Because of that, there is currently no known way to prevent the tumors from occurring. For individuals with a known family history of conditions that can lead to the tumors, there are the possibilities of carrier testing and prenatal testing to determine whether or not the conditions will occur. While these tests cannot prevent the tumors from occurring, it can aid in earlier detection of them.
Efforts are more concentrated on treatment – for an underlying hereditary condition like FAP or MEN1 or of the tumors themselves as they are found. This type of tumor is not fatal and, in many situations, is small enough that treatment is not necessary.