A closer look: Adrenal Gland Cancer (Pheochromocytoma) in Cats
The adrenal glands are small glands found near the kidneys which primarily help modulate a cat’s stress responses through the production of hormones called catecholamines, including adrenalin. These hormones also have roles in regulating the immune system and blood pressure. Adrenal gland cancer develops as a result of uncontrolled cell proliferation. Pheochromocytomas often produce large amounts of these hormones, preventing the body from regulating the stress response appropriately, due to constant stimulation from the hormones produced by the tumor. This constant stimulation results in increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, and changes in heart function.
Adrenal gland tumors are rare, but may cause life-threatening symptoms. Cats showing symptoms of pheochromocytomas require immediate veterinary assistance.
Cats may present with nonspecific symptoms.
As with many cancers, the cause of adrenal gland cancer is not currently known.
Adrenal gland cancer is often asymptomatic. Symptoms arise depending on the size of a tumor and whether it produces epinephrine.
A pheochromocytoma crisis develops when larger adrenal tumors produce large amounts of epinephrine suddenly.
Testing and diagnosis
- Physical examination
- Blood pressure testing
- Diagnostic imaging, including X-rays, ultrasound, CT scan or MRI
- Urinalysis, including testing for catecholamine
Adrenal gland cancer is often difficult to diagnose, and in some cases tumors may only be discovered during necropsy.
Steps to Recovery
Treatment is primarily surgical, with an adrenalectomy. Medication is sometimes indicated pre-surgery to compensate for hypertension or an irregular heartbeat.
In some cases surgery is not possible, such as when a tumor invades the surrounding vessels. In these cases, supportive treatment with medication is indicated.
Medical management has a poorer prognosis than surgical intervention. Most surgical patients survive years after treatment, as long as the tumor has not metastasized and no complications develop from surgery. Complications may arise from surgery due to the proximity between the tumors and the nearby arteries and organs. With medical management alone, patients can live for several months after diagnosis.
There are no preventative measures against adrenal gland cancer.
Adrenal gland cancer is not contagious.
Is Adrenal Gland Cancer (Pheochromocytoma) in Cats common?
Adrenal gland cancer is rare in cats, although more common in older animals.