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Adrenal gland
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Signs and symptoms of adrenal gland cancer

A sign is something that can be observed and recognized by a doctor or healthcare professional (for example, a rash). A symptom is something that only the person experiencing it can feel and know (for example, pain or tiredness). The signs and symptoms of adrenal gland cancer can also be caused by other health conditions. It is important to have any unusual symptoms checked by a doctor.

The signs and symptoms of adrenal gland cancer depend on:

  • whether the tumour is producing hormones (functioning) or not (non-functioning)
  • the types of hormone overproduced
  • if the tumour is large and pressing on nearby organs

Functioning tumours

The signs and symptoms of a functioning adrenal gland tumour depend on the hormone it overproduces.

Symptoms caused by cortisol overproduction

Hypercortisolism, known as Cushing’s syndrome, can be caused by adrenal gland tumours that overproduce cortisol. Cushing’s syndrome can also be caused by a pituitary glandpituitary glandThe main endocrine system gland at the base of the brain that produces hormones to control other glands and many body functions, including growth. tumour or drugs given to treat other health problems. Most people with a functioning adrenal tumour present with Cushing’s syndrome. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • full, rounded face (“moon face”)
  • weight gain – especially in the chest and abdomen, with thin arms and legs
  • a lump of fat on the neck and shoulders (“buffalo hump”)
  • excessive hair growth on the face, arms, chest and back in women
  • acne that develops after puberty
  • purple stretch marks on the abdomen
  • muscle weakness
  • high blood sugar the develops in people who do not have risk factors for diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • menstrual irregularities
  • easy bruising
  • deepening of the voice in women
  • swelling of the sex organs or breasts in both men and women
  • mood changes
  • thinning of the bones (osteoporosis), which can lead to fractures

Symptoms caused by aldosterone overproduction

Hyperaldosteronism, known as Conn’s syndrome, is caused by adrenal gland tumours that overproduce aldosterone. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • high blood pressure
  • muscle weakness
  • muscle cramps
  • increased thirst
  • frequent urination
  • frontal headaches
  • abnormal sensation on the skin (paraesthesia), such as numbness, prickling, tingling or burning
  • heart problems
  • changes to vision

Symptoms caused by androgen or estrogen overproduction

Adrenogenital syndrome is caused by adrenal gland tumours that overproduce the sex hormones androgen (male hormone) and estrogen (female hormone).

  • too much androgen production in women may cause:
    • excessive hair growth on the face, arms or upper back
    • acne
    • balding
    • deepening of the voice
    • no menstrual periods
  • too much androgen production in men usually does not cause symptoms
  • too much estrogen production in women may cause:
    • irregular menstrual periods in premenopausal women
    • menstrual bleeding in post-menopausal women
  • too much estrogen production in men may cause:
    • breast enlargement
    • decreased sex drive
    • impotence

Pheochromocytoma tumours

Functioning pheochromocytoma tumours may produce too much epinephrine or norepinephrine. High levels of these hormones over a long period of time can cause serious health problems. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • high blood pressure
  • drop in blood pressure – especially when getting up from a sitting or lying position
  • headache
  • sweating
  • rapid heart beat
  • palpitations
  • anxiety
  • weakness
  • visual disturbances
  • abdominal or chest pain
  • diarrhea

Non-functioning tumours

Non-functioning adrenal gland tumours do not produce hormones, so there are no signs and symptoms related to excess hormones in the body. Non-functioning tumours have few early signs and symptoms. Signs and symptoms occur as the tumour grows larger or spreads to other parts of the body and may include:

  • pain in the abdomen or back
  • feeling of fullness in the abdomen
  • a lump in the abdomen
  • early satiety (feeling full sooner than normal after eating or after eating less than usual)

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