What are the symptoms of ACC?
Adrenocortical carcinomas (ACCs) are usually found because of the symptoms they cause but sometimes they are also found by chance if a patient has a scan for other reasons. ACCs may make higher than normal amounts of cortisol and aldosterone and may also secrete hormones that a healthy adrenal would not produce. These may include the male hormone testosterone and the female hormone oestradiol that cause symptoms and even body changes. Some ACCs get very large and although these don’t usually make active hormones (they are non-functioning), they may cause symptoms by pressing on other organs in the body.
“I started feeling poorly [with] intermittent bloating and bathroom changes so wasn’t concerned until symptoms became constant and I felt a lump in my stomach area”
There are 2 types of ACC:
Hormone Secreting – This is when the tumour makes more than normal amounts of steroid hormones in addition to those already made by the normal adrenal gland cells.
High levels of steroid hormones cause symptoms that may include:
- high blood pressure
- sexual dysfunction,
- muscle weakness and wasting,
- weight gain,
- excess facial or body hair in women
- baldness in women
- deepening of the voice in women
- soreness and increase in the size of the breasts in men
- easy bruising,
- early puberty in children,
- reduced immunity (impaired response to infections),
- change in body shape
- mood changes.
Non-functioning – These tumours are likely to be found when symptoms occur due to the size of the tumour. Symptoms might include pain or swelling, weight loss or signs that the disease has spread outside of the adrenal gland. They do not cause the symptoms of high hormone levels, although sometimes these hormones are found in the blood or urine. Sometimes tumours are found by chance, such as during a scan while looking at something unrelated. These tumours are described as ‘incidental’.
“I started getting hair on my chest, on my back, the hair on my head started getting very thin. It got so bad that I started wearing wigs. I started gaining weight, plus I would have these episodes where I would just feel like passing out.”
Most adrenal nodules (small tumours) discovered by chance are harmless but larger tumours (usually more than 4cm) need careful checking for cancer.
For more detailed information on all aspects of ACC, download our free patient information book.