Adrenal Tumors

The adrenal glands are located deep in the abdomen on top of the kidneys. An important part of the endocrine system, the two adrenal glands work interactively with the hypothalamus and pituitary gland in the brain to produce hormones that help regulate the immune system, blood pressure and metabolism. Each layer of an adrenal gland produces different hormones. One is adrenaline, which helps the body respond to stress. A second substance is cortisol, which enables the other hormones in the body to work properly. The final hormone is aldosterone, which regulates the amount of salt in the bloodstream. Learn more about how the adrenal glands work.

Disorders of the adrenal glands can cause over-secretion of each of these hormones. In the case of adrenaline, an adrenaline-producing tumor called pheochromocytoma causes severe high blood pressure and spasms. Adrenal tumors which produce cortisol trigger a condition called Cushing's syndrome, causing obesity and menstrual irregularities. Adrenal conditions over-producing aldosterone lead to Conn's syndrome (hyperaldosteronism), causing high blood pressure and low potassium levels.

Adrenal tumors can be either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous) and require treatment from medical and surgical experts who specialize in these uncommon growths. Our adrenal surgeons are specialists in minimally invasive surgery, including radio-guided approaches and laparoscopic adrenal cryosurgery.

Adrenal Tumor Topics

Symptoms of Adrenal Tumors

The symptoms of adrenal tumors vary depending on the type of adrenal tumor. Symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal stretch marks
  • Diabetes
  • Feelings of anxiety or panic attacks
  • Headache
  • Heart palpitations
  • High blood pressure
  • Low potassium level
  • Nervousness
  • Sweating
  • Unexplained weight gain or weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Excessive hair growth
  • Unusual acne
  • Change in libido (sex drive)
Diagnosis of Adrenal Tumors

We work closely with the Center for Adrenal Disorders, providing integrated diagnostic care and treatment for patients with adrenal tumors before, during and after surgery. 

Treatment for Adrenal Tumors

Endocrine surgeons at BWH have extensive training and experience in a wide array of adrenal surgical procedures. Daniel Ruan, MD specializes in adrenal surgery for benign adrenal tumors and adrenal cancer. He is an expert in minimally invasive surgery including laparoscopic adrenalectomyand is one of few adrenal surgeons in the United States to use retroperitoneoscopic adrenalectomy, a minimally invasive technique that uses a direct approach through the back to access adrenal tumors. For many adrenal surgeries, patients leave the hospital within 24 hours of the procedure and resume normal activities within a few weeks.

Surgical options for adrenal tumors include:

  • Laparoscopic adrenalectomy surgery is the main treatment option for adrenal tumors. Surgeons may remove one or both adrenal glands. 
  • Laparoscopic adrenalectomy involves the use of special instruments through "keyhole" incisions. In comparison to conventional adrenal surgery, the laparoscopic approach minimizes postoperative pain and shortens the recovery period.
  • Retroperitoneoscopic adrenalectomy is a new minimally invasive technique that utilizes a more direct approach through the back to access adrenal tumors. It is best suited for patients with a history of previous abdominal operations and patients that require surgery on both adrenal glands. 

The Advanced Multimodality Image Guided Operating (AMIGO) Suite at BWH is a unique, research-based operating room that allows surgeons to use MRI coupled with real-time ultrasound guidance. Daniel T. Ruan, MD is the first surgeon to apply this technology to perform cortical sparing adrenalectomy.

What You Should Expect

You will receive a thorough diagnostic examination to evaluate if you have an adrenal tumor and determine what course of treatment is needed. Careful monitoring and the involvement of an experienced endocrine surgeon are important to the successful outcome for patients with adrenal disorders.

If you are having surgery or a procedure, you will likely be scheduled for a visit to the Weiner Center for Preoperative Evaluation for pre-operative information and tests.

The day of surgery, you will be taken cared for in the operating room by endocrine surgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses who specialize in surgery for patients with adrenal tumors. After surgery, you will recover in the post-surgical care unit where you will receive comprehensive care by an experienced surgical and nursing staff.

Learn more about your hospital stay and returning home.

Multidisciplinary Care

Brigham and Women’s Hospital provides a multidisciplinary approach to patient care by collaborating with colleagues who have extensive experience in diagnosing and treating adrenal disorders. In addition, patients have full access to BWH’s world-renowned academic medical community with its diverse specialists and state-of-the-art facilities.

We also partner with BWH’s Center for Adrenal Disorders, a clinical care and research initiative between BWH, Children’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Adrenal Surgery Appointments and Locations

Contact one of our adrenal surgeons in the list at the top of the page to make an appointment.

Adrenal Surgery Locations

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