Learn about this rare cancer that begins in the adrenal glands. Find out about symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, including adrenalectomy.
Adrenal cancer is a rare cancer that begins in one or both of the small, triangular glands (adrenal glands) located on top of your kidneys. Adrenal glands produce hormones that give instructions to virtually every organ and tissue in your body.
Adrenal cancer, also called adrenocortical cancer, can occur at any age. But it's most likely to affect children younger than 5 and adults in their 40s and 50s.
When adrenal cancer is found early, there is a chance for cure. But if the cancer has spread to areas beyond the adrenal glands, cure becomes less likely. Treatment can be used to delay progression or recurrence.
Most growths that form in the adrenal glands are noncancerous (benign). Benign adrenal tumors, such as adenoma or pheochromocytoma, also can develop in the adrenal glands.
Signs and symptoms of adrenal cancer include:
It's not clear what causes adrenal cancer.
Adrenal cancer forms when something creates changes (mutations) in the DNA of an adrenal gland cell. A cell's DNA contains the instructions that tell a cell what to do. The mutations can tell the cell to multiply uncontrollably and to continue living when healthy cells would die. When this happens, the abnormal cells accumulate and form a tumor. The tumor cells can break away and spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.
Adrenal cancer happens more often in people with inherited syndromes that increase the risk of certain cancers. These inherited syndromes include:
Tests and procedures used to diagnose adrenal cancer include:
Adrenal cancer treatment usually involves surgery to remove all of the cancer. Other treatments might be used to prevent the cancer from coming back or if surgery isn't an option.
The goal of surgery is to remove the entire adrenal cancer. To achieve this, doctors must remove the all of the affected adrenal gland (adrenalectomy).
If surgeons find evidence that cancer has spread to nearby structures, such as the liver or kidney, parts or all of those organs might also be removed during the operation.
An older drug that has been used to treat advanced adrenal cancer has shown promise in delaying the recurrence of the disease after surgery. Mitotane (Lysodren) may be recommended after surgery for people with a high risk of cancer recurrence. Research into mitotane for this use is ongoing.
Radiation therapy uses high-powered beams of energy, such as X-rays and protons, to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy is sometimes used after adrenal cancer surgery to kill any cells that might remain. It can also help reduce pain and other symptoms of cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, such as the bone.
Chemotherapy is a drug treatment that uses chemicals to kill cancer cells. For adrenal cancers that can't be removed with surgery or that return after initial treatments, chemotherapy may be an option to slow the progression of the cancer.
With time, you'll find what helps you cope with the uncertainty and distress that comes with a cancer diagnosis. Until then, you may find it helps to:
Find someone to talk with. Find a good listener who is willing to listen to you talk about your hopes and fears. This may be a friend or family member. The concern and understanding of a counselor, medical social worker, clergy member or cancer support group also may be helpful.
Ask your doctor about support groups in your area. Other sources of information include the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society.
Start by making an appointment with your doctor if you have any signs or symptoms that worry you.
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.
When you make the appointment, ask if there's anything you need to do in advance, such as fasting before having a specific test. Make a list of:
Bring a family member or friend with you, if possible, to help remember the information you're given.
For adrenal cancer, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask other questions.
Your doctor is likely to ask you several questions, such as:
December 23rd, 2020