An adrenalectomy (uh-dree-nul-EK-tuh-me) is surgery to remove one or both adrenal glands.

One adrenal gland sits above each of your kidneys. Your two adrenal glands produce various hormones that help regulate your metabolism, immune system, blood pressure, blood sugar and other essential functions.

Most adrenal tumors are noncancerous (benign). You may need surgery (adrenalectomy) to remove an adrenal gland if the tumor is producing excess hormones or is large in size (more than 2 inches or 4 to 5 centimeters). If you have a cancerous tumor, you also may need an adrenalectomy. You may also need an adrenalectomy to remove cancer that has spread from another location, such as the kidney or lung.

If both adrenal glands are removed, you'll need to take hormone medications. If only one gland is removed, the remaining gland will take over.

Types of adrenalectomy

Surgeons may perform an adrenalectomy through minimally invasive or traditional open surgery. They may also use cryoablation. The procedure they recommend depends on the size and type of tumor or the condition affecting your adrenal gland.

  • Minimally invasive surgery. Endocrine surgeons at Mayo Clinic are often able to use minimally invasive (laparoscopic) surgery for tumors of the adrenal gland because the gland is relatively small. Doctors perform laparoscopic surgery through several small cuts (incisions). This type of surgery uses a tiny camera and surgical instruments. Doctors have a magnified, 3D view of the surgical site. Laparoscopic surgery has many benefits. For example, this surgery has smaller scars, less pain and a shorter recovery period than traditional open surgery.

    An alternative to laparoscopic surgery is a posterior retroperitoneoscopic adrenalectomy (PRA). In this procedure, surgeons make small cuts (incisions) in your back.

    Sometimes surgeons perform robot-assisted adrenalectomies. They perform the surgery through small cuts (incisions) using robotic arms with a camera and instruments attached. The camera gives doctors a high-definition, magnified, 3D view of the surgical site.

  • Open surgery. Doctors usually reserve open surgery for large or cancerous tumors. They perform open surgery using traditional instruments and cuts (incisions).
  • Cryoablation. In addition, Mayo Clinic doctors may use cryoablation to treat adrenal tumors. This procedure uses CT imaging to guide doctors as they insert a probe that freezes and destroys adrenal tumors. Imaging specialists may use cryoablation as a treatment option for small tumors that have spread to the adrenal gland, particularly when surgery carries a high risk.

Your doctor can explain your treatment options and discuss whether an adrenalectomy is the most appropriate treatment for you.