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Endocrine Surgery

Adrenal Surgery

Adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys

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Adrenal Tumors

General Questions About Adrenal Surgery

  • What types of adrenal surgery are there?

    • Laparoscopic transabdominal adrenalectomy
      This is the most common minimally invasive approach utilized by surgeons to remove the adrenal gland. 3-4 small incisions will be made under your rib cage (see diagram) which the surgeon will use to access the adrenal gland by going through the abdominal cavity.

Placement of incisions during laparoscopic transabdominal adrenalectomy. 3-4 incisions

    • Laparoscopic retroperitoneal adrenalectomy  
      This is another minimally invasive approach to remove your adrenal gland, only performed at a few specialized centers (we do it at USC). 3 small incisions are made in your back below your 12th rib (see diagram below) which the surgeon will use to access the adrenal from behind without entering the abdominal cavity.

Laparoscopic retroperitoneal adrenalectomy

    • Open adrenalectomy
      A large abdominal incision is used when there is a diagnosis or a strong suspicion of adrenal cancer before your surgery. Occasionally, other large may also require an open operation.
  • Is the whole adrenal gland always removed?
    • Generally, the entire adrenal gland is removed during surgery. This leaves you with one whole, healthy gland on the other side, which will provide all the hormonal control that you need.
    • In special circumstances, such as patients with bilateral tumors or hereditary syndromes, a partial or cortical-sparing adrenalectomy (where we leave a small part of normal adrenal tissue behind) may be performed.

  • What type of anesthesia will I have?
    • General anesthesia

  • How long does surgery take?
    • Laparoscopic surgery usually takes anywhere from one to three hours once you are asleep depending on the type of surgery you are having and the difficulty of the case. 

  • How long will I be hospitalized?
    • Most patients that undergo a laparoscopic adrenalectomy will spend one to two nights in the hospital.
    • Patients that undergo open adrenal surgery will generally spend 3-6 days in the hospital. 
    • For patients with functional tumors (ones that make steroids, catecholamines, aldosterone), the length of your stay may depend somewhat on getting you on the right medication for discharge.

  • How long is recovery? When can I go back to work?
    • Recovery is usually a few days, mainly due to a generalized fatigue after anesthesia.
    • Most people that undergo a laparoscopic adrenalectomy take off up to a week from work. Open surgery requires a longer recovery.
    • Please see laparoscopic adrenalectomy – what to expect (PDF file, 25KB) for further information.

  • What are the risks of surgery?
    • The risks of surgery are rare, but exist, and are similar to any abdominal surgery. These include bleeding, infection, injury to nearby blood vessels and structures, possible need for conversion to an open surgery.
  • When will I know the findings of the surgery?
    • The results of your final pathology can take up to seven business days. The surgeon will call you with the results if they are back in a few days. However, the surgeon may not be able to discuss the results with you in advance if there is a delay in final pathology report.

  • Will I have a big scar?
    • The incisions from laparoscopic surgery are very small and leave very minimal evidence after 6-12 months after surgery.

  • Will I have stitches?
    • For patients that have a laparoscopic surgery there will not be any stitches to remove.
    • Patients that need open surgery will most likely have staples that will be removed at 10-20 days after your surgery.

  • Will I have to take medication after my adrenal gland is removed?
    • If you have one adrenal gland removed there is no need to take supplements. Your other remaining gland will produce all the hormones you need. However, if the adrenal mass you had removed was producing cortisol before surgery (we know this from checking blood tests), then you will likely need to take steroids for a period of time after your surgery. Your physicians will discuss this with you further.

  • Will I need follow-up appointments once my adrenal gland has been removed?
    • You will have a follow-up appointment with your surgeon generally 1-2 weeks after surgery.
    • If you had surgery because your tumor was functional (meaning that it produced hormones), it is very important to have regular follow-up with endocrinologist and possibly your surgeon to check your blood tests.


Please refer to the American Association of Endocrine Surgeons patient education website for more detailed information:

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University of Southern California
Upper G.I. and General Surgery

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Phone: (323) 865-3918
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