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Nonfunctional Adrenal Masses

By

Ashley B. Grossman

, MD, University of Oxford; Fellow, Green-Templeton College

Last full review/revision May 2022
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Nonfunctional adrenal masses are cancerous or noncancerous growths of the adrenal glands that have no hormonal activity.

Nonfunctional adrenal masses may be noncancerous growths or cancers. Some masses are solid, and some are cysts (pockets of tissue that contain fluid sometimes mixed with tissue material ). Others are caused by bleeding or by infections.

Usually people have no symptoms unless the mass is caused by excessive bleeding, in which case people have abdominal pain and they may be weak or dizzy.

Often the masses are discovered when people have computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for other medical problems. In most cases, precise imaging techniques can indicate if the mass is or is not likely to be cancerous. When a mass is found, doctors do blood tests to measure adrenal gland function.

Treatment depends on the size of the mass. Masses larger than about an 1½ inches (4 centimeters) are usually taken out surgically. Masses smaller than about ¾ inch (2 centimeters) are usually left alone, and people have blood tests to detect whether the mass has started secreting excess hormones. People with masses in between those sizes whose hormone levels are normal have regular blood tests and also imaging tests to see whether the mass is growing. A small mass may need to be removed if

  • It grows to more than about 1½ inches (4 centimeters).

  • Hormone levels start to increase and cause symptoms.

  • The mass is likely to be cancerous.

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