The first question that many patients who have been diagnosed with an adrenal adenoma ask is what is the life expectancy, but the good news is that with the correct treatment, the prognosis is excellent and patients should enjoy a normal life expectancy.
Although some people think that an adrenal adenoma is a form of cancer, this is not the case. Although an adrenal adenoma is a tumour of the adrenal gland, it is benign which means that it is non-cancerous. There are two types of adrenal adenoma, functioning and non-functioning. Non-functioning adenomas require no treatment at all as they do not produce hormones or cause any symptoms or medical issues. In these cases, the life expectancy of patients is unaffected. If the patient is suffering from a functioning adenoma, their life expectancy is still excellent as long as they receive the required treatment to treat the associated medical issues and to remove the gland.
Functioning adrenal adenomas cause too many steroid hormones to be produced which cause their own medical problems. Too much cortisol results in Cushing's Syndrome while an excessive amount of aldosterone results in Conn's Syndrome. Adenomas can also release excessive amounts of male sex hormones which result in excessive hair growth and acne. The good news is that all of these conditions can be treated effectively once they have been diagnosed, ensuring that patients' life expectancy is not affected.
Patients who have developed Cushing's Syndrome because of a functioning adenoma may experience a range of symptoms including central obesity and weight gain, spots, headache and back pain, impotence, hypertension, osteoporosis, depression and excessive hair. There are medications which can be given to reduce the amount of steroid hormones being produced and these can be given in some cases, although surgery to remove the adrenal gland is the best and most permanent solution. If left untreated, the associated complications of Cushing's Syndrome including hypertension and osteoporosis can cause further long term health implications.
The excessive amounts of aldosterone released by adenomas cause patients to develop Conn's Syndrome, and the primary and usually only symptom of this condition is high blood pressure. As untreated hypertension can cause heart problems, putting patients at risk of strokes and cardiac arrests, it is important to identify and treat the condition as soon as possible, however while waiting for surgery, patients can be given a drug which acts to block the effects of aldosterone.
The only effective treatment to cure this condition is to surgically remove the adrenal gland which contains the tumour. This procedure is called an adrenalectomy and may be performed through standard surgery or via keyhole surgery. This type of procedure is no more risky than any other type of surgery although in some cases the spleen also has to be removed as part of the operation in which case the patient is at risk of pneumonia and meningitis and will therefore usually be vaccinated against both of these conditions before the surgery is carried out. Following surgery, the patient will experience no further symptoms and their life expectancy should return to normal.
As long as the patient's condition is diagnosed and treated as quickly as possible, their life expectancy is excellent. It is therefore very important to thoroughly investigate any symptoms such as high blood pressure and any of the symptoms of Cushing's Syndrome thoroughly in order to determine whether a benign tumour of the adrenal gland is the cause. This will enable the arrangement of the surgery which is essential to treat the condition.