An adrenal adenoma is a benign (noncancerous) tumor that forms in your adrenal glands. It’s the most common type of adrenal gland tumor. Most adrenal adenomas don’t produce symptoms or require treatment. However, some adenomas may cause your adrenal glands to secrete excess hormones, like cortisol.
Adrenal adenomas are benign (noncancerous) tumors in your adrenal glands. Your adrenal glands are small, triangular glands located atop both of your kidneys. They secrete hormones that help your body respond to stress. Your adrenal glands also release hormones that regulate your blood sugar, blood pressure and immune system, among other essential functions.
Your adrenal glands have two parts, your adrenal cortex and your adrenal medulla. Your adrenal cortex secretes hormones, including cortisol and aldosterone. The adrenal medulla produces dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine. Adrenal adenomas form in your adrenal cortex.
Adrenal adenomas don’t usually cause symptoms or require treatment. Some may lead to the overproduction of one or more normal adrenal hormones.
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Adrenal adenomas are either functioning or nonfunctioning.
Neither type of tumor is likely to become cancer, but a nonfunctional adrenal adenoma can become functional.
Adrenal adenomas can become cancerous, but this is rare. The most common cancerous tumor that forms in your adrenal glands is adrenocortical carcinoma. Like adrenal adenomas, functioning adrenocortical carcinoma tumors secrete excess hormones. They may cause symptoms similar to functioning adrenal adenomas.
Only about 1 in 1 million people develop adrenocortical carcinoma. The majority of adrenal tumors are benign (noncancerous).
Anyone can get an adrenal adenoma, although the likelihood increases with age. Approximately 3% to 9% of people have adrenal adenomas. They’re the most common type of adrenal gland tumor.
Functioning adrenal adenomas can cause your adrenal glands to secrete excess amounts of one or more types of hormone. As a result, you may experience symptoms of certain adrenal disorders, including:
Functioning adrenal adenomas may produce symptoms related to having excess hormones in your body, especially excess cortisol (Cushing’s syndrome) or excess aldosterone (Primary aldosteronism).
Signs and symptoms may include:
People AFAB may experience irregular menstrual cycles and increased masculine characteristics (virilization). People AMAB may experience sexual dysfunction.
Researchers don’t know what causes an adrenal adenoma or other benign adrenal gland tumors to form. Still, certain genetic conditions may increase your risk, including:
Obesity and tobacco use may also increase your chances of having an adrenal adenoma.
Many people don’t realize they have an adrenal adenoma until their healthcare provider discovers an adrenal gland tumor during an imaging procedure for an unrelated medical condition. These tumors are sometimes called “incidentalomas” because they’re found incidentally, or by chance.
Your healthcare provider will first determine whether a tumor is cancerous (for example, adrenocortical carcinoma) or benign (for example, adrenal adenoma). If it’s an adrenal adenoma, they’ll perform tests to determine whether it’s secreting excess hormones.
Your healthcare provider will perform a physical exam and ask you about your symptoms and medical history. They may perform any of the following tests to learn more about your tumor:
Other tests may include adrenal vein sampling or a metaiodobenzylguanidine (MIBG) scan.
Your treatment depends on whether the tumor is nonfunctioning or functioning (secreting excess hormones). If a nonfunctioning tumor is small, your healthcare provider may recommend periodic CT scans to ensure it doesn’t increase in size or become functional. If the tumor grows rapidly or gets bigger (usually nearing 5 centimeters), your healthcare provider may recommend surgery. Large tumors and rapid growth increase the likelihood of a tumor becoming cancerous.
Treatments for functioning tumors almost always involve surgery. Treatments include:
Adrenal gland tumors, including adrenal adenoma, can’t be prevented. The risk factors for adrenal adenoma often depend on your genes. Still, you can develop an adrenal adenoma even if no one in your family has a history of adrenal gland tumors.
Treatment outcomes associated with adrenalectomy are excellent. Removing the affected adrenal gland often relieves the symptoms related to functional adrenal adenomas.
Follow your healthcare provider’s guidance about how often you should be tested if you’ve been diagnosed with a nonfunctioning adrenal adenoma. Depending on your tumor, your healthcare provider may recommend periodic CT scans or hormone testing.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Don’t be too alarmed if your healthcare provider finds an adrenal gland tumor during an imaging procedure. Most often, these tumors are harmless. If your tumor turns out to be an adrenal adenoma, your healthcare provider can run tests to see if it’s causing an overproduction of hormones. If it is, surgery can help. If your tumor is nonfunctioning, your healthcare provider can monitor it to ensure it doesn’t negatively impact your hormones. If there’s a concern that it could become malignant, your healthcare provider can remove it.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/04/2022.
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