Adrenal Cancer

What is Adrenal Cancer?

Adrenal cancer, which is also referred to as adrenocortical cancer, is a rare type of cancer that will start off within the adrenal glands that are found on top of the kidneys. It can develop at any age, but it is more likely to affect children under 5 and adults who are in their 40s or 50s. This cancerous tumor is also known as adrenal cortical carcinoma to differentiate it from adenoma, the benign tumor of the adrenal gland.

Although this cancer is usually aggressive, if it is caught early, a cure is possible. If adrenal cancer spreads to other parts of the body, however, the odds of a cure are lower.

What are the Symptoms of Adrenal Cancer?

Elevated hormones

Since the adrenal glands are responsible for producing regulatory hormones that include cortisone and adrenaline, hormonal imbalances are common symptoms of this type of cancer. Urine tests and blood tests can assist in the detection of elevated hormones.

Symptoms include

A lump within the abdomen, fever, pain that is persistent as a result of the pressure of the tumor on the organs, a feeling of fullness caused by the tumor putting pressure on the stomach, and weight loss that is unexplained.

Adrenal Cancer Causes

Most incidences of cancer in the adrenal gland happen when cancer in another part of the body metastasizes and spreads through the bloodstream to other parts. Because of that, the diagnosis is for the originating form of cancer. The forms of cancer most likely to spread to the adrenal gland include, but are not limited to, lung cancer, melanoma, and breast cancer.

In cases where the cancer starts in the adrenal glands, the majority of diagnosed cases have no known cause. One statistic places the percentage as high as 85%. For a minority, the cause is a disorder the person inherited from one or both parents. Other noticed risk factors for this condition include age (this is usually diagnosed in children or adults between the ages of 40 and 50) and whether or not someone is a smoker.

How is Adrenal Cancer Treated?

Treatments can be utilized in order to delay the progression of adrenal cancer or to prevent a recurrence. Multiple types of treatments may be necessary, depending upon the stage of the cancer.

Treatment options

Options typically include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and other medications. Biologic therapy and targeted therapy are new forms of treatment that are being studied and tested to treat this particular tumor.

Adrenal Cancer Prevention

Adrenal cancer is difficult to prevent because it is an aggressive form of cancer. The focus of research, for now, is on detecting it sooner and finding ways to treat it more effectively before it becomes more aggressive.

Knowing your family’s medical history can play a role in finding adrenal cancer sooner. Because there are multiple disorders that can lead to this form of cancer, knowing what they are and how likely a person with one is to develop cancer is one way to aid in early detection.

Disorders that can lead to adrenal cancer include:

  • Beckwith/Wiedman Syndrome (a disorder that causes abnormal growth)
  • Carney Complex
  • Li-Fraumeni Syndrome
  • Familial adnomatous polyposis (an inherited condition where numerous polyps can be found in the large intestines)
  • Multiple endocrine neoplasia (an inherited disorder that causes tumors to grow in hormone producing tissues throughout the body)
  • Lynch syndrome
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Last Reviewed:
September 11, 2016
Last Updated:
November 02, 2017