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Adrenal tumors originate in the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are located right above each of the kidneys and are responsible for making certain hormones. There are two parts of the adrenal glands: the cortex and the medulla. Most tumors develop on the cortex, the outer part of the gland.
Adrenal Tumor Care at UVM Medical Center
The University of Vermont Cancer Center doctors use a collaborative approach to treating adrenal cancer. Your team may include a number of different specialists working together to manage your care. We use the most sophisticated medical technology available for diagnosing and treating adrenal gland cancer, including the latest advances in imaging scans, surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Your treatment will depend on a number of factors, including the severity of the cancer and your general health.
Diagnosis of Adrenal Tumors
Your doctor will begin the diagnosis by asking you about your symptoms and your medical and family history. We will also perform a thorough physical examination.
Other diagnostic procedures include:
- Laboratory tests - We will examine your blood and urine, looking for high levels of the hormones produced by some adrenal tumors.
- Imaging tests - We use the most advanced imaging technology available. These procedures provide us with a detailed picture of the tumor. We use these scans to locate the exact position of the tumor and see if the cancer has spread. Imaging tests include:
- Minimally invasive surgery - Your physician may perform laparoscopic surgery, which is surgery that uses tiny incisions and instruments. Laparoscopy allows us to see where the cancer is growing and helps us determine if we can remove the tumor using surgery. We can even remove small benign tumors through the laparoscope.
You may be wondering if we will perform a biopsy. A biopsy is often a popular option for diagnosing cancer. It involves removing a small amount of the tumor and examining it for signs of cancer. However, we do not usually recommend biopsy for diagnosing adrenal cancer. The procedure may actually cause the cancer cells to spread. Therefore, we use imaging and laboratory tests for adrenal tumor diagnosis rather than biopsy.
Treatments for Adrenal Gland Tumors
There are a number of treatment options for adrenal cancer. You may need only one type of treatment, or we may decide to combine two or more treatments in order to offer you the best outcome.
Treatment options include:
Surgery for Adrenal Cancer
Removing the adrenal gland is called an adrenalectomy. There are a few different approaches to this type of surgery. Your doctor will discuss your surgical options with you and choose the approach with the highest chance of success:
- Removing the gland through the back. Your surgeon makes an incision in your back, below the ribs, to remove the gland. This approach works well for smaller tumors.
- Removing the gland through the abdomen. This approach works better for larger tumors since your surgeon can see the tumor more clearly. In addition, if the cancer has spread to nearby organs, it is easier for the surgeon to remove that as well.
- Laparoscopic surgery. This is a minimally invasive surgical option, using a thin lighted tube called a laparoscope. Your doctor makes small incisions rather than a large one, leading to a faster recovery. However, laparoscopy is only an option if the tumor is small and hasn't spread. If the tumor is large, your doctor would need to break it up first, which increases the risk of the cancer spreading.
Radiation Therapy for Adrenal Cancer
Radiation therapy uses a high-energy, focused beam of radiation to destroy cancer cells. We do not usually use radiation therapy as the main treatment for adrenal gland cancer. This is because adrenal cancer cells are hard to kill using radiation beams. However, we may use radiation therapy:
- After surgery, to keep the tumor from coming back
- To treat cancer that has spread to other areas
Chemotherapy for Adrenal Cancer
Chemotherapy uses powerful drugs to destroy cancer cells. The drugs travel through your bloodstream. This type of treatment is called systemic because it affects your entire body. Chemotherapy patients may experience uncomfortable or painful symptoms during treatment. At The UVM Cancer Center, we work with you to manage your symptom and keep you as comfortable as possible.
Chemotherapy, like radiation therapy, is not very effective against adrenal cancer. We may use it:
- If the cancer has spread or cannot be removed surgically
- After surgery, to destroy remaining cancer cells
Drug Therapy for Adrenal Cancer
University of Vermont Cancer Center providers may use targeted drug therapy to help treat adrenal cancer. Your oncologist will work closely with an endocrinologist to supervise your treatment. The goal of drug therapy is to stop the cancer cells from producing hormones or to improve the symptoms caused by the hormones.
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