Diagnosis of Adrenal Cancer

Diagnosis of adrenal cancer involves taking a medical history and performing a physical examination, blood and urine tests, imaging tests, and a biopsy. Medical history includes family history of adrenal cancer, menstrual (in women) and sexual history, and the patient's history of symptoms. Physical examination includes palpating (feeling with the fingers) the abdomen for evidence of an adrenal mass.

Blood and Urine Tests
Blood and urine tests are used to detect elevated levels of hormones (e.g., cortisol, aldosterone) and other substances (e.g., potassium). The patient's symptoms determine which tests are performed.

Imaging Tests for Adrenal Cancer

Computed tomography (CT scan) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI scan) are the imaging studies of choice used to produce images of the adrenal gland and identify abnormal enlargement or tumors.

CT scan uses x-rays to produce detailed images of the adrenal glands, other abdominal organs, and lymph nodes. In some cases, a contrast agent (dye) is used to detect metastasis.

MRI uses magnetic fields to produce a cross-sectional image that detects abnormal enlargement of the adrenal gland. This test may be used to help determine if adrenal tumors are benign or cancerous (malignant).

Biopsy to Diagnose Adrenal Cancer

Biopsy is the surgical removal of cells or tissue for microscopic evaluation. This procedure may be used to evaluate an adrenal mass for cancer cells. During biopsy, ultrasound or CT scan is used to guide a needle into the tumor to remove cells (called a fine needle aspirate) or a larger amount of tissue (called core tissue biopsy). The cells are then examined under a microscope and if cancerous cells are found, the cancer is staged.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 09 Jun 1998

Last Modified: 28 Aug 2015