Adrenal Cancer

There are two adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are small and shaped like a triangle. One adrenal gland sits on top of each kidney. Each adrenal gland has two parts. The outer layer of the adrenal gland is the adrenal cortex. The center of the adrenal gland is the adrenal medulla.

The adrenal cortex makes important hormones that:

  • Balance the water and salt in the body.
  • Help keep blood pressure normal.
  • Help manage the body's use of protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
  • Cause the body to have masculine or feminine characteristics.

The adrenal medulla makes hormones that help the body react to stress.

Adrenocortical carcinoma is also called cancer of the adrenal cortex. A tumor of the adrenal cortex may be functioning (makes more hormones than normal) or nonfunctioning (does not make hormones). The hormones made by functioning tumors may cause certain signs or symptoms of disease.

Stages of Adrenal Cancer:

Stage I: In stage I, the tumor is 5 centimeters or smaller and is found only in the adrenal gland.

Stage II: In stage II, the tumor is larger than 5 centimeters and is found only in the adrenal gland.

Stage III: In stage III, the tumor can be any size and may have spread to fat or lymph nodes near the adrenal gland.

Stage IV: In stage IV, the tumor can be any size and has spread:

  • to fat or organs and to lymph nodes near the adrenal gland; or
  • to other parts of the body. Adrenocortical carcinoma commonly spreads to the lung, liver, bones, and peritoneum (the tissue that lines the abdominal wall and covers most of the organs in the abdomen).

 

Treatment of Adrenal Cancer by Stages:

Stage I Adrenal Cancer

Treatment of stage I adrenocortical carcinoma is usually surgery (adrenalectomy). Lymph nodes may be removed if they are larger than normal. A clinical trial, a research study of new treatment methods, may also be available for the treatment of Stage I adrenal cancer.

Stage II Adrenal Cancer

Treatment of stage II adrenocortical carcinoma is usually surgery (adrenalectomy). Lymph nodes may be removed if they are larger than normal. A clinical trial may also be available for the treatment of Stage II adrenal cancer.

Stage III Adrenal Cancer

Treatment of stage III adrenal cancer may include the following:

  • Surgery (adrenalectomy with or without removal of lymph nodes).
  • A clinical trial of radiation therapy for tumors that cannot be removed by surgery.
  • A clinical trial of mitotane for tumors that cannot be completely removed by surgery.

Stage IV Adrenal Cancer

Treatment of stage IV adrenal cancer may include the following as palliative therapy to relieve symptoms and improve the quality of life:

  • Mitotane therapy.
  • Radiation therapy to bones where cancer has spread.
  • Chemotherapy followed by surgery to remove the tumor.
  • Surgery to remove the tumor.
  • Surgery to remove cancer from places where it has spread.
  • A clinical trial of chemotherapy or biologic therapy.

Search for clinical trials in Georgia.

Adapted from the National Cancer Institute's PDQ Database: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/adrenocortical/Patient. (Accessed July 2016)