Adrenal Tumors: Diagnosis & Treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering

Pictured: Mabel Ryder, Vivian Strong & Jorge Carrasquillo Endocrinologist Mabel Ryder, surgeon Vivian Strong, and nuclear medicine physician Jorge Carrasquillo each bring unique expertise to bear on diagnosing and treating adrenal tumors.

Memorial Sloan Kettering takes a multidisciplinary approach to the diagnosis and treatment of all types of adrenal tumors. Specialists from a variety of disciplines — including endocrinology, nuclear medicine, surgery, medical oncology, and interventional radiology — collaborate in the development of an individualized treatment plan for each patient. This approach ensures that our patients have access to innovative and minimally invasive therapies, as well as more intensive therapies for patients with advanced or recurrent tumors.

Our doctors use state-of-the-art diagnostic imaging and hormone testing to identify the precise location and type of adrenal tumor a patient may have. One or a combination of treatments, including surgery, hormone therapy, chemotherapy, radionuclide therapy (which involves injecting a protein that is rapidly absorbed by the tumor combined with a radioactive substance), and minimally invasive therapies, may be used to ensure that patients with all kinds of adrenal tumors receive the best care available.

Hormone Screening

Some adrenal tumors are functional, which means they produce excess hormones that can lead to a variety of hormone-related symptoms. (For information about the role of these hormones in the body and symptoms related to excess hormone production, visit About Adrenal Tumors.) Our endocrinologists use a variety of specialized laboratory tests to measure levels of adrenal hormones. This evaluation helps our doctors make a more accurate diagnosis and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Advanced Imaging Technology

At Memorial Sloan Kettering, our adrenal gland experts use CT, MRI, radionuclides, and other imaging techniques to locate and characterize adrenal tumors. These imaging studies are useful in distinguishing between benign and malignant tumors, although a biopsy or surgery to remove the adrenal gland may be required in some cases to confirm the diagnosis.

Our Surgical Expertise

Surgery is the standard of care for most functional (hormone-producing) tumors, including those that are benign, and for large or rapidly growing malignant tumors. The surgical approach depends on the type of adrenal tumor, its location and size, and whether it has spread to nearby lymph nodes or distant organs. Our surgeons have performed nearly 600 surgical resections in patients with adrenal tumors.

Our Publications Read journal articles from our adrenal tumor experts Go »

When possible, our surgeons use a minimally invasive technique to remove the tumor and the affected adrenal gland with a laparoscope (a thin, lighted tube with a camera attached to its tip). In select patients, it may be possible to remove the tumor while preserving the healthy portion of the gland (partial adrenalectomy). Our surgeons have performed nearly 150 laparoscopic procedures for patients with adrenal tumors, included robotic-assisted laparoscopic surgery. Laparoscopic procedures have been shown to substantially reduce pain, complications, and recovery time for patients compared with traditional, open surgery.

New Approaches to Therapy for Adrenal Cancer

Some patients with malignant adrenal tumors (adrenal cortical carcinoma) — including tumors that have spread to other areas of the body (metastasized) or have returned after initial treatment — may be too sick to undergo surgery. Memorial Sloan Kettering offers a number of palliative treatments aimed at improving quality of life for patients who are not candidates for surgery, including chemotherapy and tumor ablation, a minimally invasive procedure that uses heat or cold to kill tumor cells. In this procedure, an interventional radiologist uses imaging to guide the delivery of heat or cold directly to the tumor site, without making a large incision.

Our doctors have developed new treatment strategies for patients with advanced adrenal cancer. We are also evaluating novel therapeutic drugs that are effective in treating several urologic cancers and may offer promise in treating adrenal cancer.