Adrenal Cancer: Introduction
About the Endocrine System
The foundations of the endocrine system are the hormones and glands. As the body's chemical messengers, hormones transfer information and instructions from one set of cells to another. Although many different hormones circulate throughout the bloodstream, each one affects only the cells that are genetically programmed to receive and respond to its message. Hormone levels can be influenced by factors such as stress, infection, and changes in the balance of fluid and minerals in blood.
A gland is a group of cells that produces and secretes, or gives off, chemicals. A gland selects and removes materials from the blood, processes them, and secretes the finished chemical product for use somewhere in the body. Some types of glands release their secretions in specific areas. For instance, exocrine glands, such as the sweat and salivary glands, release secretions in the skin or inside of the mouth. Endocrine glands, on the other hand, release more than 20 major hormones directly into the bloodstream where they can be transported to cells in other parts of the body.
The major glands that make up the human endocrine system are the hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, parathyroids, adrenals, pineal body, and the reproductive glands, which include the ovaries and testes. The pancreas is also part of this hormone-secreting system, even though it is also associated with the digestive system because it also produces and secretes digestive enzymes.
Adrenal Cancer (adrenocortical carcinoma) is a rare tumor afflicting only one or two people per million. It usually occurs in adults, and the median age at diagnosis is 44 years. Although potentially curable at early stages, only 30% of these malignancies are confined to the adrenal gland at the time of diagnosis. Because these tumors tend to be found years after they began growing, they have the opportunity to invade nearby organs, spread to distant organs (metastasize) and cause numerous changes in the body because of the excess hormones they produce.