Cushing syndrome due to adrenal tumor

Cushing syndrome due to adrenal tumor


Adrenal tumor - Cushing syndrome

Cushing syndrome due to adrenal tumor is a form of Cushing syndrome. It occurs when a tumor of the adrenal gland releases excess amounts of the hormone cortisol.

Other forms of Cushing syndrome include:

  • Cushing disease
  • Ectopic Cushing syndrome
  • Exogenous Cushing syndrome

I Would Like to Learn About:

  • Causes

    Cushing syndrome is a disorder that occurs when your body has a higher than normal level of the hormone cortisol. This hormone is made in the adrenal glands. Too much cortisol can be due to various problems. One such problem is a tumor on one of the adrenal glands. Adrenal tumors release cortisol.

    Adrenal tumors are rare. They can be noncancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant).

    Noncancerous tumors that can cause Cushing syndrome include:

    • Adrenal adenomas
    • Micronodular hyperplasia

    Cancerous tumors that may cause Cushing syndrome include an adrenal carcinoma.

  • Symptoms

    Most people with Cushing syndrome have:

    • Round, red, full face (moon face)
    • Slow growth rate in children
    • Weight gain with fat accumulation on the trunk, but fat loss from the arms, legs, and buttocks (central obesity)

    Skin changes that are often seen:

    • Skin infections
    • Purple marks (1/2 inch or more wide), called striae, on the skin of the abdomen, thighs, and breasts
    • Thin skin with easy bruising

    Muscle and bone changes include:

    • Backache, which occurs with routine activities
    • Bone pain or tenderness
    • Collection of fat between the shoulders and above the collar bone
    • Rib and spine fractures caused by thinning of the bones
    • Weak muscles, especially of the hips and shoulders

    Women often have:

    • Excess hair growth on the face, neck, chest, abdomen, and thighs
    • Periods that become irregular or stop

    Men may have:

    • Decreased or no desire for sex
    • Impotence

    Other symptoms that may occur include:

    • Mental changes, such as depression, anxiety, or changes in behavior
    • Fatigue
    • Headache
    • Increased thirst and urination
  • Exams and Tests

    The health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask about your symptoms.

    Tests to confirm Cushing syndrome:

    • 24-hour urine sample to measure cortisol and creatinine levels
    • Blood tests to check ACTH, cortisol, and potassium levels
    • Dexamethasone suppression test
    • Blood cortisol levels
    • Blood DHEA level
    • Saliva cortisol level

    Tests to determine cause or complications include:

    • Abdominal CT
    • ACTH
    • Bone mineral density
    • Cholesterol
    • Fasting glucose
  • Treatment

    Surgery is done to remove the adrenal tumor. Often, the entire adrenal gland is removed.

    Glucocorticoid replacement treatment is usually needed until the other adrenal gland recovers from surgery. You may need this treatment for 9 to 12 months.

    If surgery is not possible, such as in cases of adrenal cancer, medicines can be used to stop the release of cortisol.

  • Outlook (Prognosis)

    Patients with an adrenal tumor who have surgery have an excellent outlook. For adrenal cancer, surgery is sometimes not possible. When surgery is performed, it does not always cure the cancer.

  • Possible Complications

    Cancerous adrenal tumors can spread to the liver or lungs.

  • When to Contact a Medical Professional

    Call your health care provider if you develop any symptoms of Cushing syndrome.

  • Prevention

    Appropriate treatment of adrenal tumors may reduce the risk of complications in some patients with tumor-related Cushing syndrome.

Related Information

  Cushing syndrome...Adrenal glandsCancerACTH blood testPituitary tumorEctopic Cushing sy...ChronicMetastasis    


McGee S. Cushing syndrome. In: Evidence-Based Physical Diagnosis. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders. 2012:chap 13.

Stewart PM, Krone NP. The adrenal cortex. In: Melmed S, Polonsky KS, Larsen PR, Kronenberg HM, eds. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 12th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 15.

Susmeeta TS, Nieman LK. Cushing's syndrome: all variants, detection, and treatment. Endocrinol Metab Clin N Am. 2011;40:379–391.


Review Date: 11/7/2013  

Reviewed By: Brent Wisse, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology & Nutrition, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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