Adrenal Cancer - Medical Malpractice Lawyers

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Adrenal Cancer - Medical Malpractice

Adrenal cancer is uncommon, affecting about one out of a million people in the world. It is of a higher prevalence in men greater than aged 40 to 50 and in children under the age of five years. It originates in the adrenal glands, located above the kidneys. You can get cancer of the cortex of the adrenal gland or the inner medullary portion of the adrenal gland. The cortex makes glucocorticoids (cortisol), aldosterone and DHEA (an androgen). The medulla of the adrenal gland produces norepinephrine, adrenaline and dopamine. There are both hormone producing adrenal cancers and non-hormone producing adrenal cancers. It is more difficult to identify those tumours that do not produce hormones.

The three main types of adrenal cancer include neuroblastoma, which usually affects children, pheochromocytoma, that occurs in the medulla of the adrenal gland and Adrenocortical carcinoma that occurs in the cortex or outer part of the gland.

The causes of adrenal cancer aren't completely known. It is more commonly occurring in the cortex of the adrenal gland and the hormones can be produced in excess over what the body can handle. If you have early adrenal cancer, however, you may have no particular symptoms at all.

Symptoms of adrenal cancer may not show up until the cancer pushes on other body tissues, such as the kidneys or back tissues. The majority of symptoms come from the overproduction of hormones, particularly DHEA, cortisol and aldosterone. Tumours that secrete norepinephrine and epinephrine are called pheochromocytomas and are not usually cancerous. The main symptoms of adrenal cancer include pain in the abdomen, changes in sexual activity and function, excess hair growth, increased thirst, easy bruisability, frequent urination, irregular menses, changes in mood, weakness, deepening of the voice and weight gain. These are mostly caused by the excessive hormone production.

In some cases, an adrenal gland can be serious, such as having chest pain, palpitations, altered level of consciousness, high fever, tachycardia, seizure, severe headache or severe abdominal pain. Breathing problems can result from this as well.

The diagnosis of adrenal cancer can be made by measuring the hormonal levels of aldosterone, DHEA, cortisol, adrenaline or norepinephrine. Following this, an ultrasound, CT scan or MRI scan can be done to show the presence of the adrenal tumour and any local or regional metastases. Like any cancer, adrenal cancer can metastasize to other body areas and is more deadly in such cases.

Treatments of adrenal cancer include surgical excision of the tumour, chemotherapy to attack the residual cancer cells, and radiation to the affected adrenal gland or single metastasis. After removal of the adrenal glands, the individual may need replacement of aldosterone, DHEA, and/or cortisol. If cortisol levels are too high, there can be medication given to block the elevated cortisol. If you have a particularly severe case of the disease, you may need to participate in a clinical trial of new chemotherapeutic agents or radiation methods to cure the disease.

Complications of adrenal cancer are usually related to excessive hormone production. Complications can sometimes be life threatening or at least very serious. Common complications include diabetes or high blood sugar, hypertension (high blood pressure), permanent female masculinisation due to excessive androgen production. Both men and women can get osteoporosis. Spread of cancer and death is not uncommon. The survival rates for stage I cancer after five years is about 65 percent. The same is true for stage II cancer of the adrenal glands. Stage III adrenal cancer has a five year survival rate of about 40 percent. The survival rate of stage IV or metastatic adrenal cancer is the worst-at ten percent or less.

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The author of the substantive medical writing on this website is Dr. Christine Traxler MD whose biography can be read here