(Cancer of the Adrenal Cortex; Adrenal Cortical Carcinoma; Adrenal Cancer)
by Amanda Barrett, MA
Adrenocortical carcinoma is cancer of the adrenal cortex. The adrenal glands are 2 glands located above each kidney. The glands produce important hormones. These hormones regulate heart rate, blood pressure, and many other vital functions, including response to stress and infection. The adrenal cortex is the outside layer of the 2 adrenal glands.
Cancers of the adrenal cortex are rare. The majority of these tumors produce excess hormones. The excess hormones can change hormonal balance.
The cause of adrenocortical carcinoma is unknown.
Risk Factors TOP
There are few known risk factors for cancers of the adrenal cortex. A genetic defect may cause adrenocortical cancer in some children, but the majority of cases are nonhereditary.
Approximately 40% of people with adrenocortical carcinoma do not secrete any hormone. These people do not have any specific symptoms. Adrenocortical carcinoma is discovered as part of a physical examination for abdominal pain.
Other tumors are hormonally active. Excess hormones may produce symptoms such as:
You will be asked about your symptoms. A medical and family history will be collected. A physical exam will be done.
Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:
Images may be needed of your bodily structures. These can be made with:
After cancer of the adrenal cortex is confirmed, you will be referred to a cancer specialist.
Additional testing will be done to determine what stage the cancer has reached. The stage of a tumor is determined by its size and how far it has spread from its point of origin.
Treatment depends on the stage of the tumor and your overall health. Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you.
The following methods are used to treat cancer of the adrenal cortex:
Adrenalectomy is a surgical procedure to remove the adrenal tumor is the first treatment approach for most cases. Surrounding tissues or lymph nodes that contain cancer cells may also need to be removed.
Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy
Chemo- or radiation therapy tend to be less effective in treating this type of cancer. They are most often used if the cancer has spread. Chemotherapy may also be used if there is a high chance the cancer will come back.
Other Therapies TOP
If treatment is successful, you will still need to be screened for reoccurrence of the cancer on a periodic basis.
There are no current guidelines to prevent adrenocortical carcinoma.
American Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute
BC Cancer Agency
Canadian Cancer Society
Abiven G, Coste J, Groussin L, Anract P, et al. Clinical and biological features in the prognosis of adrenocortical cancer: poor outcome of cortisol-secreting tumors in a series of 202 consecutive patients. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2006;91(7):2650-2655.
Adrenal cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at:
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Accessed September 6, 2016.
Allolio B, Fassnacht M. Adrencortical carcinoma: clinical update. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2006;91:2027-37.
General information about adrenocortical carcinoma. National Cancer Institute website. Available at:
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Updated may 27, 2016Accessed September 6, 2016.
Kirschner LS. Review: emerging treatment strategies for adrnocortical carcinoma: a new hope. J Clin Endocinol Metab. 2006;91(1):14-21.
Van Ditzhuijsen cI, van de Weijer R, Haak HR: Adrenocortical carcinoma. Neth J Med. 2007;65(2):55-60.
Last reviewed May 2016 by Mohei Abouzied, MD
Last Updated: 5/27/2014
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