Symptoms of stage 4 adrenal gland cancer vary from person to person. The disease may affect hormone production, which can cause symptoms such as changes in menstruation or hair growth. As the tumor grows, it may also cause pain and discomfort.

Adrenal cancer is a rare cancer of the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are two small glands inside the upper abdomen, one on top of each kidney. They are part of a network of glands that make hormones.

The adrenal glands have two parts, each of which makes a different set of hormones.

The cortex, or the outer part, makes:

  • cortisol, which helps the body handle stress
  • aldosterone, which helps control the amount of salt in the blood and blood pressure
  • adrenal androgens, which the body can convert into the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone

The medulla, or the inner part, makes norepinephrine and epinephrine. These hormones play an important role in the body’s natural fight-or-flight response.

Doctors typically classify adrenal cancer according to stages, taking into account factors such as:

  • the size of the tumor
  • whether the tumor has spread to nearby lymph nodes
  • whether the tumor has spread to distant lymph nodes or other organs

Stage 4 cancer means the cancer has spread to other organs. It is the most advanced stage of cancer. Symptoms of late stage adrenal cancer vary widely from person to person.

This article will cover the symptoms, causes, treatment, and outlook of stage 4 adrenal cancer.

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Adrenal cancer can cause symptoms in two different ways.

It can change the way the adrenal glands make hormones, sometimes making extra hormones that the body does not need, and it can press on the tissues around the glands.

The symptoms differ from person to person but might include:

Some people with adrenal cancer may also develop diabetes, panic attacks, or acne.

Children with adrenal cancer may show signs of puberty at an early age.

Cancers are collections of cells. Typically, the body makes just enough new cells to replace dying ones. Sometimes, this process breaks down, and cells multiply uncontrollably, forming tumors. These tumors can spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream.

Cancers can develop anywhere in the body. Doctors call cancers that develop in the adrenal glands adrenal cancers. They are very rare. Around 200 people in the United States develop adrenal cancer every year.

Tumors can develop in the cortex or the medulla. Doctors may refer to cancers of the cortex as “adrenal cortex carcinomas” and cancers of the medulla as “neuroblastomas.”

Anyone who experiences symptoms of adrenal cancer should speak with a doctor as soon as possible. The earlier a person receives a diagnosis, the more treatment options will be available.

However, according to the American Cancer Society, detecting adrenal cancers early can be difficult. Around one-third of people receive a diagnosis when getting imaging done for other conditions.

Experts do not know what causes the uncontrolled cell multiplication that leads to adrenal cancer.

However, some risk factors include:

  • exposure to carcinogens
  • smoking
  • lack of physical activity

Some genetic health conditions are also risk factors for adrenal cancer. They include:

To treat stage 4 adrenal cancer, doctors may recommend:

  • surgery to remove the bulk of the tumor from the adrenal gland and lower the volume of extra hormones the tumor makes
  • radiation therapy
  • chemotherapy

Treatment for late stage or stage 4 adrenal cancer typically focuses on easing symptoms.

Doctors tend to explain the outlook in terms of 5-year survival rates. A 5-year survival rate refers to the percentage of people who live for at least 5 years after a diagnosis.

Advanced adrenal cancer has a 5-year survival rate of 38%. This means that out of every 100 people with a diagnosis of stage 4 adrenal cancer, 38 will still be alive after 5 years.

However, it is important to remember that these figures are only a guide. Everyone responds to treatment differently.

Adrenal cancer is a rare cancer that develops in the adrenal glands. Stage 4 adrenal cancer refers to cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.

Symptoms can arise due to cancer-related hormone changes or the tumor pushing on nearby tissues. Symptoms might include changes in sex drive or menstruation, headaches, or anxiety.

Treatment for stage 4 adrenal cancer usually focuses on symptom relief.