Adrenal Gland Tumor: Follow-Up Care

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 10/2022

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about your medical care after treatment for an adrenal gland tumor is complete and why this follow-up care is important. Use the menu to see other pages.

Care for people diagnosed with an adrenal gland tumor does not end when active treatment has finished. Your health care team will continue to check that the tumor has not come back, manage any side effects, and monitor your overall health. This is called follow-up care.

Your follow-up care may include regular physical examinations, medical tests, or both. Doctors want to keep track of your recovery in the months and years ahead.

The endocrine system is a complex collection of hormone-producing glands that control many essential functions in the body. If the adrenal gland that did not have the tumor is still working correctly after surgery, it should be able to provide enough of the hormones the body needs. However, sometimes a person needs hormone replacement therapy, such as steroids, because the body can not produce enough hormones. This dosage may be lowered over time, and you may even be able to stop taking the hormone replacement drug at some point in the future. An endocrinologist, which is a doctor who specializes in the endocrine system, should carefully monitor this process.

If both adrenal glands have been removed, long-term medication will be required to replace the hormones that were normally produced by these glands. You should also wear a medical-alert bracelet. If you ever become sick or fall unconscious, the bracelet can inform health care professionals of your condition.

For some people who have had an adrenal gland tumor, the risk of developing a tumor in the other gland is 10% or higher. Because of this, people treated for an adrenal gland tumor may need regular checkups with an endocrinologist to monitor their recovery and detect any new tumor growth. In particular, adrenalcortical carcinoma can grow and spread quickly. Because it is rare, you may want to participate in a clinical trial at a medical center with experience treating and monitoring this particular type of tumor. Talk with your doctor about locating these studies and what type of follow-up care is recommended for you.

Benign-appearing adrenal tumors also may need follow-up with imaging scans and hormonal testing. The length and frequency of follow-up and type of tests ordered may be different from patient to patient. Talk with your doctor if follow-up like this is necessary in your case.

Rehabilitation may be recommended, and this could mean any of a wide range of services, such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, career counseling, pain management, nutritional planning, and/or emotional counseling. The goal of rehabilitation is to help people regain control over many aspects of their lives and remain as independent as possible. Learn more about cancer rehabilitation.

Learn more about the importance of follow-up care.

Watching for recurrence

One goal of follow-up care is to check for a recurrence, which means that the cancer has come back. A tumor recurs because small areas of tumor cells may remain undetected in the body. Over time, these cells may increase in number until they show up on test results or cause signs or symptoms.

During follow-up care, a doctor familiar with your medical history can give you personalized information about your risk of recurrence. Your doctor will also ask specific questions about your health. Some people may have blood tests or imaging tests as part of regular follow-up care, but testing recommendations depend on several factors, including the type and stage of the tumor first diagnosed and the types of treatment given.

The anticipation before having a follow-up test or waiting for test results may add stress to you or a family member. This is sometimes called “scanxiety.” Learn more about how to cope with this type of stress.

Managing long-term and late side effects

Most people expect to have side effects when receiving treatment for the tumor. However, it is often surprising to survivors that some side effects may linger beyond the treatment period. These are called long-term side effects. In addition, other side effects called late effects may develop months or even years after treatment has ended. Long-term and late effects can include both physical and emotional changes.

Talk with your doctor about your risk of developing such side effects based on your diagnosis, your individual treatment plan, and your overall health. If you had a treatment known to cause specific late effects, you may also have certain physical examinations, scans, or blood tests to help find and manage them.

Keeping personal health records

You and your doctor should work together to develop a personalized follow-up care plan. Be sure to ask about any concerns you have about your future physical or emotional health. The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) offers forms to help keep track of the treatment you received and develop a survivorship care plan once treatment is completed.

This is also a good time to talk with your doctor about who will lead your follow-up care. Some survivors continue to see their oncologist and/or endocrinologist, while others transition back to the care of their primary care doctor or another health care professional. This decision depends on several factors, including the type and stage of the tumor, treatments received, side effects, health insurance rules, and your personal preferences.

If a doctor who was not directly involved in your medical care will lead your follow-up care, be sure to share your treatment summary and survivorship care plan forms with them and with all future health care providers. Details about your treatment for an adrenal gland tumor are very valuable to the health care professionals who will care for you throughout your lifetime.

The next section in this guide is Survivorship. It describes how to cope with challenges in everyday life after being diagnosed with an adrenal gland tumor. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.