Adrenal Tumor: Non-Cancerous Masses Explained

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH

An adrenal tumor is often found by scans such as mri, but many times may not be a concernAdrenal masses are growths of tissue in the adrenal gland. They appear in 1%-10% of the population in autopsies. They are being discovered more often these days due to the prevalence of CT scans, MRI’s and other imaging technologies. While common, these masses are usually benign and nonfunctional, meaning they are not a threat to health. Your doctor will usually investigate and can tell you whether or not an adrenal tumor is something to be worried about.

But what if your doctor has told you the adrenal tumor isn’t a problem, but you still have symptoms? Let’s go ahead and look at some of these:

  • Weight gain, especially around the abdomen and above the collarbone
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Weakness and loss of muscle mass
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Low libido
  • Heart palpitations
  • Hypoglycemia

In the case of a functional mass or some form of adrenal cancer, symptoms are caused by an imbalance of adrenal hormones. The above symptoms are reflective of an imbalanced production of cortisol. Therefore, an adrenal tumor can indeed cause these symptoms. But if testing should be able to tell if that was the case, does that mean the doctor has made a mistake?

Imbalances in adrenal hormone production can be the result of other disorders or effects on the body. In fact, one very common and yet often missed reason for impaired adrenal function in many people, is Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS).

The adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys, and when stressed can develop an adrenal tumorAFS is a neuroendocrine disorder that occurs when the adrenals are overworked to the point that their function begins to decline. The adrenal glands are the stress control centers of the body, and it is their job to maintain homeostatic balance in the body when stressors would disrupt it. Chronic, unrelenting stress, keeps the adrenal glands running at full tilt until they can no longer sustain their pace and begin to wear down. The drawdown in adrenal function means that the delicate hormonal balance is thrown out of whack, internal homeostasis is lost, and symptoms like the ones above, appear and disrupt your daily life.

So what can you do to recover from AFS? Unfortunately, most of the medical community is either dismissive or under-educated about AFS and even then there is no prescribable drug to cure it.

Fortunately, there are other steps that can be taken. Since chronic stress is invariably the initial trigger for the development of AFS, steps should be taken to reduce stress in your daily life. The reality is that this is often easier said than done when most people have work and kids to consider, among responsibilities; but even setting aside some time each day to relax, meditate, or otherwise clear your mind and rest your body, helps to reset and clear the body back to a more rested state.

Stress on the body can be in the form of many things, not just external triggers. The body is a unit, with many systems working together to make it function. When recovering from AFS and decreasing stress, it is important to understand the holistic approach of the Neuroendocrine Metabolic (NEM) Stress Response Model. Much like how external stress affects our body, issues in one part of our body affects other parts of the body. Adrenal function is just one part of the NEM Response, which includes hormone levels and stress response. Diet, exercise, and sleep function are also key players in the NEM Response. In order to recover well from AFS, our entire body, the NEM Response, must be in balance.

Overworking your body and propping up your energy with coffee may actually be the root of your adrenal tumor symptomsNow stress is not only found in our daily schedule, but can also be caused from what we eat. Trans-fats, refined sugars, and stimulants like coffee, tax our bodies and create extra stress. These should be avoided, and a healthy and balanced diet of whole grains, meats and proteins, and vegetables will help the body to rebuild its worn out parts and recover. Nutritional supplementation is often necessary for an optimal recovery; but in severe cases of AFS, these may actually be harmful as the body can be in such a state of disrepair that it is unable to effectively utilize these supplements, and they end up further congesting the retarded internal functions even more.

Concerned About an Adrenal Tumor?

So if you have an adrenal tumor and are worried about cancer due to experiencing the above symptoms, you should definitely have a discussion with your doctor first. But if you’ve been assured the adrenal tumor is benign and not affecting your adrenal function, you may want to look elsewhere for the cause of your symptoms. Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome is a very common and easily overlooked condition that you may not even know you have.

Adrenal tumor
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Hello Dr. Lam, thank You for your wonderful articles filled with so much powerful knowledge and written in a fashion that is easy to understand. I have not been fortunate enough to find the correct doctor for me as it seems any visit is so fast it would take a very long time to get answers because of the time allowed & what needs to be discussed, but I am so happy this Your site was shared with me.


  • Thankful For Your Work.... says:

    I am a Registered Nurse. I went into the hospital for symptoms of Pheo. It was discovered that I have bilateral adrenal adenomas. Although all my test results were “Within Normal Limits”… was not. My cortisol level was 3.67. I so very wish that doctors would educate themselves. I have been researching the adrenals and thyroid for years because my son has issues. However, when I mention my ideas or suggest a Reverse T3 test, I am dismissed. UGH!! Thank you for the work you do