The adrenal glands are paired structures located in the back of the abdomen, just above the kidneys.
The adrenal glands produce steroid and other hormones that help regulate blood pressure, kidney function, responses to stress, and some sexual functions.
Therefore, the approach to the evaluation of most adrenal masses depends upon the radiographic appearance of the lesion, whether the patient has any symptoms from overproduction of one of the adrenal hormones, and whether the patient has a known primary malignancy.
The two parts of the adrenal glands, the adrenal cortex and the adrenal medulla, perform separate functions and produce separate hormones. The adrenal cortex produces glucocorticoids (cortisol), mineralocorticoids (aldosterone), and androgens (sex hormones). Cortisol has important effects on heart, blood pressure, metabolism and your immune system. Aldosterone is necessary for fluid and electrolyte balance, which affects your blood pressure. The adrenal androgen hormones regulate sexual characteristics. The adrenal medulla is responsible for producing epinephrine and norepinephrine (adrenaline), with effects on blood pressure and bodily stress responses. Both deficiency and overproduction of these hormones can cause significant problems. Overproduction of these hormones may be due to a tumor of the adrenal gland, which is an indication for your doctor to send you for a urologic consultation.
Most adrenal lesions represent benign nonfunctioning masses called adenomas. The vast majority are discovered during an examination that is being performed for reasons other than suspected adrenal disease. In some cases, they represent benign lesions that may secrete hormones that can affect a patient’s blood pressure or steroid/sugar levels. In other cases, these adrenal lesions can represent a metastatic lesion in a patient with a known primary malignant lesion.