Adrenal tumor - diagnosis (2023)

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Adrenal tumor: diagnosis

Approved byCancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2021

ON THIS PAGE:You'll find a list of common tests, procedures, and scans that doctors use to find the cause of a medical problem. Use the menu to view other pages.

Doctors use many tests to find or diagnose a tumor. They also do tests to find out whether the tumor is cancerous and, if so, whether it has spread to another part of the body from where it started. If this happens, it is called metastases. Some tests can also determine which treatments may be most effective.

To diagnose an adrenal tumor, your doctor will carry out blood and urine tests (see below) to detect the presence of certain substances which will help determine whether the tumor is 'active' or 'inactive' (seeEntrance). Computed tomography (CT or CAT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) (see below) may be helpful in making a diagnosis and determining whether an adrenal tumor is cancerous. Imaging tests show pictures of the inside of the body and can be used to see if a cancerous tumor has spread. Doctors can also run tests to find out which treatments might work best.

How is an adrenal tumor diagnosed?

There are many tests used to diagnose an adrenal tumor. Not all of the tests described here will apply to every person. Your doctor may consider the following factors when choosing a diagnostic test:

In addition to a physical exam, the following tests may be used to diagnose an adrenal tumor:

  • Blood and urine tests.Blood and urine tests help measure the amount of adrenal hormones, which can tell your doctor whether a tumor is functional or not. A 24-hour urine sample may also be required. This test requires a person to collect all of their urine over a 24-hour period so it can be used for laboratory testing. The test results help your doctor track how quickly different hormones are produced.

    One of the hormones doctors look for in these tests is a stress hormone called cortisol. A specific test, called the dexamethasone suppression test, checks your cortisol levels. For this test, you may be asked to take a pill the night before. This pill contains a drug that acts like cortisol in the body. When a person who does not have an adrenal tumor takes this drug, their body produces less cortisol and other hormones. However, if someone has an adrenal tumor, cortisol levels will remain high even after taking the medicine. Tell your doctor about any medications you are taking, even over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and herbal remedies, as this information is necessary to correctly interpret the results of this test.

  • Biopsy.INbiopsyinvolves taking a small amount of tissue for examination under a microscope. If the doctor suspects that the cancer has spread to the adrenal glands from another part of the body, a biopsy may be done to find out where the cancer started, which can help the doctor plan treatment. During a biopsy, a narrow, hollow needle is used to extract tissue. This is called a fine needle biopsy or fine needle aspiration. The biopsy is performed by a radiologist who uses specialized imaging procedures such as a CT scan (see below) to insert a needle directly into the tumor. The pathologist then analyzes the sample(s) removed during the biopsy. A pathologist is a doctor who specializes in interpreting laboratory tests and evaluating cells, tissues, and organs to diagnose disease. An assessment of hormone production should be performed before biopsy of an unknown adrenal mass to ensure that the tumor is not producing catecholamines.

  • computed tomography or computed tomography.INcomputed tomographytakes pictures of the inside of the body using x-rays taken from different angles. The computer then combines these images into a detailed three-dimensional image that shows any abnormalities or tumors. Sometimes a special dye called a contrast agent is administered before the scan to give the image more detail. This dye can be injected into a patient's vein through a peripheral intravenous (IV) line. This line is a short plastic tube that is inserted into a vein that allows healthcare professionals to administer medications or fluids.

  • MR.SomeMRuses magnetic fields, not x-rays, to create detailed images of the body. MRI can also be used to measure the size of a tumor. Before the test, a special dye called a contrast agent is given to get a clearer picture. This dye can be injected into a vein or given as a pill to swallow.

  • Metaiodobenzyloguanidyny (MIBG) scanning.MIBG is an adrenaline-like chemical that accumulates in a neuroendocrine tumor. An MIBG scan can show an adrenal medullary tumor that may not show up on an X-ray. Scanning is performed on 2 consecutive days. On the first day, an injection with MIBG is given in the arm. A few hours later, pictures are taken with a special camera that can show if and where in the body MIBG has collected. The next morning, more pictures are taken and the process can be repeated if necessary.

  • Adrenal vein sampling (AVS).In rare cases, a patient may have symptoms of a hormone-producing tumor, but a CT or MRI scan may not detect the tumor, or the patient may have small tumors in both adrenal glands. In these cases, the interventional radiologist may test blood from the veins in each adrenal gland. Blood from each gland is tested to determine if the extra hormone is coming from the adrenal gland along with the tumor. This procedure is performed only by specialists and takes place in a special radiology center.

  • DOTATATE Positron Emission Tomography (PET) eller PET-CT-scanning.A PET scan is usually combined with a CT scan (see above), called PET orPET-CT examination. During this test, a small amount of a radioactive drug, called a tracer, is injected into the patient's vein. The body is then scanned to show where the radioactivity has accumulated in the body. But the amount of radiation in the substance is too low to be harmful. For a pheochromocytoma that is suspected to be inherited, recurrent, or multisite, a special PET scan is performed using a special compound called DOTATATE. This is a newer scan that is useful in evaluating these conditions.Learn more about pheochromocytoma.

After the diagnostic tests are done, your doctor will discuss the results with you. If the diagnosis is a tumor, these results also help the doctor describe it. This is called staging.

Thethe next section of this guide is Stages. It explains the system doctors use to describe the severity of an illness. Use the menu to select a different section to read in this guide.

‹ Adrenal tumor - symptoms and signs op Adrenal Tumor Stages ›

Types of cancer

Adrenal Cancer Guide

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Adrenal tumor

  • Entrance

  • Statistics

  • Risk factors

  • Symptoms and signs

  • Diagnose

  • Grading

  • Treatment types

  • About clinical trials

  • Latest research

  • Engaged in treatment

  • be careful

  • survival

  • Questions to ask your healthcare team

  • Additional resources

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Adrenal tumor - diagnosis? ›

Your doctor will thoroughly examine your abdomen for evidence of a tumor (or mass). Your blood and urine will likely be tested to look for high levels of the hormones made by some adrenal tumors. If an adrenal tumor is suspected, imaging tests will be done to look for it. These tests can also help see if it has spread.

How do I know if I have an adrenal tumor? ›

If you have an adrenal gland tumor, your symptoms may include: High blood pressure (hypertension) Women: Excess facial and body hair, deep voice or problems with menstruation. Men: Breast tenderness or enlargement, lowered sex drive and/or erectile dysfunction.

What labs indicate adrenal tumor? ›

Blood and Urine Tests

Doctors may use blood or urine tests to check for abnormal levels of hormones in the body, which may be produced by adrenal tumors. Doctors can test some hormone levels in your blood. In some instances, doctors may need to test samples of your urine that are collected over a 24-hour period.

How do doctors find tumors on adrenal glands? ›

Adrenal Gland Tumors

Blood and urine tests help measure the amount of adrenal hormones, which can detect a functional tumor. A computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan may be useful in diagnosing an adrenal gland tumor and determining whether it is cancerous.

How serious is a tumor on the adrenal gland? ›

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

Will blood test show adrenal tumor? ›

In addition to a physical examination, the following tests may be used to diagnose an adrenal gland tumor: Blood and urine tests. Blood and urine tests help measure the amount of adrenal hormones, which can tell the doctor if the tumor is functional or nonfunctional. A 24-hour urine sample may also be needed.

Can a CT scan detect adrenal tumor? ›

CT Scans (CAT Scans) to Evaluate Adrenal Tumors and Growths. The CT scan (also called CAT scan) is very accurate at examining the adrenal glands and other abdominal structures and can be used on any type of adrenal tumor.

What are 3 diseases that affect the adrenal glands? ›

What are some types of adrenal gland disorders?
  • Adrenal Gland Tumors. Most adrenal gland tumors—abnormal growths on the adrenal glands—are not cancerous. ...
  • Adrenocortical Carcinoma. ...
  • Cushing Syndrome. ...
  • Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH) ...
  • Pituitary Tumors. ...
  • Pheochromocytoma. ...
  • Adrenal Gland Suppression. ...
  • Addison's Disease.
Jan 31, 2017

What are the signs of adrenal gland problems? ›

Symptoms typically include4,5:
  • Weight loss.
  • Weakness.
  • Extreme fatigue.
  • Nausea and/or vomiting.
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Patches of darker skin.
  • Craving for salt.
  • Dizziness upon standing.
Jan 31, 2017

What tests are done to check adrenal function? ›

Blood tests
  • ACTH stimulation test. The ACTH stimulation test is the test used most often to diagnose adrenal insufficiency. ...
  • Insulin tolerance test. ...
  • CRH stimulation test. ...
  • Antibody blood tests. ...
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan. ...
  • Tests for TB. ...
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

Where is the pain with adrenal tumor? ›

The most common symptom reported by patients with adrenocortical cancer is pain in the back or side (called the flank). Unfortunately, this type of pain is common and does not directly suggest a disease of the adrenal cortex.

Do benign adrenal tumors cause symptoms? ›

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.

What percentage of adrenal tumors are cancerous? ›

“Although the majority of these tumors are benign, around 30% of adrenal tumors (>4cm) are malignant (most represented by ACCs), and the survival rate for these patients is very poor unless detected early.”

Can you have an adrenal tumor for years and not know? ›

Most people with adrenal adenoma do not know that they have the condition because they don't experience any symptoms. Non-functional adrenal adenomas are significantly more common than functional ones, which cause symptoms.

What does adrenal pain feel like? ›

Symptoms of Adrenal Cancer

This can manifest itself as flank, or abdominal pain or as an increase of girth (a growing waist line). Fluctuations in weight can also be seen, both weight loss and weight gain. About half of all adrenocortical cancers overproduce cortisol.

What is the prognosis for adrenal tumors? ›

If the cancer has spread to the surrounding tissues or organs and/or the regional lymph nodes, the 5-year relative survival rate is 54%. If the cancer has spread to a distant part of the body, the 5-year relative survival rate is 38%.

What does an adrenal tumor feel like? ›

The main signs and symptoms caused by aldosterone-producing adrenal tumors are: High blood pressure. Weakness. Muscle cramps.

What does an adrenal Tumour feel like? ›

People with an adrenal gland tumor may experience the following symptoms or signs. A symptom is something that only the person experiencing it can identify and describe, such as fatigue, nausea, or pain. A sign is something that other people can identify and measure, such as a fever, rash, or an elevated pulse.

Can adrenal tumors be felt? ›

Only about five percent of tumors that grow inside the adrenal glands are cancerous; 30% of those outside the glands are. Adrenal tumors are usually very small and usually can't be felt by a doctor.


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