adrenal cancer

What Is Adrenal Cancer?


The Adrenal glands are also called suprarenal gland as it is situated above the kidneys and are a part of the endocrine system. They are yellowish, triangular-shaped organs located on top of each kidney. Adrenal glands are small, approximately 2.5 inches long and 1 inch wide. They produce a number of vital hormones essential for survival.
Adrenal gland consists of three major parts :

Anatomy Of Adrenal Cancer


Adrenal Cancer

Adrenal Cancer is a rare tumor that originates in one or both of the Adrenal glands. Since these glands are located deep inside the body so it becomes difficult to spot early symptom of the disease.

When cells in the Adrenal cortex become Cancerous, they start malfunctioning, synthesizing hormones more than required by the body. This results in several ailments like high blood pressure, weakening of the bones, or diabetes. 

Types of Adrenal Cancer

Depending on the place of birth of these Cancerous cells, Adrenal Cancer is categorized as:

Adrenocortical carcinoma

Originating in the outer layer of the cortex, it is the most common type of Adrenal Cancer. These tumors are usually discovered at a later stage when they have grown larger and cause prominent symptoms like pain, weight alterations or peculiar hormonal changes.


This is a relatively rare tumor of the Adrenaline-producing cells and only about 10% of pheochromocytomas are malignant. This is a familial Cancer with genetic predeposition. Hence, regular check-up will help the family members in early detection of the disease. An increased Adrenaline level, high blood pressure, excess sweating, and anxiety may be alarming signals about this disease.


This originates in the nerve cells of medulla, Adrenal Cancer usually affects infants or children below the age of 10.

Adrenal Cancer Occurrence Rate in India

Adrenal adenoma, a benign tumor is a common disease of the Adrenal glands but Adrenal Cancer, which is malignant in nature is a rare form. It accounts for only 0.2% of deaths due to cancer.

What Are The General Symptoms Of Adrenal Cancer?

The Adrenal glands are the production center for regulatory hormones such as Adrenaline and cortisone. So, most of the symptoms are related to hormonal imbalances resulting from abnormal secretion of a particular hormone. However, sometimes there may not be any distinct symptom until the tumor has grown big and presses against other organs causing a hindrance in their functionality.

Symptoms caused by a large size of the tumor

Symptoms caused by high level of androgen or estrogen

Symptoms caused by high level of aldosterone

Symptoms caused by an excess of stress hormone cortisol

The symptoms may vary depending on the type of Adrenal Cancer and the size of the tumor. Often, the warning signs of Adrenal Cancer are not obvious or the symptoms seem unrelated, thus making its diagnosis difficult. Blood and urine tests may help detect elevated hormone levels. However, physicians more often find an Adrenal tumor during a scan for an unrelated condition.

What Are The General Causes Of Adrenal Cancer?

Till date, the exact causes of Adrenal Cancer are not known to precision, though there are many assumptions about the same. Throughout these years, it has been noted that one may be at a higher risk if they have any of the following conditions:

Genetic Conditions
Lifestyle Conditions

Can Adrenal Cancer Be Prevented?

Since the root cause of Adrenal Cancer is not known so, it is difficult to coin down the preventive measures. However, leading a healthy life does eliminate some risk of developing any disease including Adrenal Cancer.

What Are The Stages Of Adrenal Cancer?

Stages of Cancer are assigned to indicate the spread and severity of the disease. Based on the stage of Cancer the treatment and prognosis are decided. Adrenal Cancer can be staged into:

Survival Rates Of Adrenal Cancer?

Stage 5 year Survival Rate
Localized 65%
Regional 44%
Distant 7%
The survival rate is an analysis that reveals the percentage of people in a treatment group still alive for a given period after diagnosis. Survival rates are important to determine the prognosis. The survival rate of Adrenal Cancer is high if it is detected at an early stage before Cancer has metastasized and the statistics gradually decreases with each passing stage. However, the survival rate for each individual may vary to some extent based on their overall health condition, and treatment routine followed.

Can Adrenal Cancer Be Detected Early?

Adrenal glands are located deep within the body which makes it difficult to detect the growing tumors. However, if the tumor interferes with the regulation of hormones then some symptoms might be visible. There are multiple tests and examinations to ascertain the cause of these symptoms.

What Are The Treatments Available?

The treatment plan usually depends on the stage and the patient’s preferences.  Based on these factors a complete treatment plan is prepared and the treatment may consist of one of the following procedures:


The treatment plan usually depends on the stage and the patient’s preferences.  Based on these factors a complete treatment plan is prepared and the treatment may consist of one of the following procedures:


Radiation is a treatment procedure can kill Cancer cells or inhibit the growth of the tumor. Radiation may be given internally by inserting radioactive seeds inside the body or externally through a machine. 


Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to control the growth of cancerous cells. For Adrenal Cancer, doctors most often prescribe a drug called mitotane (Lysodren), which blocks the Adrenal gland from making hormones. It also destroys cancer cells.

Some chemotherapy drugs that go through the whole body to kill Cancer cells, but they can also harm healthy cells, too.

Targeted therapy drugs look for and kill Cancer cells without harming good ones.

Tumor ablation. In this procedure, heat or cold is used to kill Cancer cells. This helps in relieving the symptoms and give a better quality of life.

Is There Curative Treatment For Adrenal Cancer?

Adrenal Cancer is highly curable when detected early. In some cases, an operation to remove the tumor cures the disease. There are several other procedures to keep the recurrence of Cancer in check.


How Frequently Should One Visit A Doctor For An Early Diagnosis?

In case of experiencing any of the mentioned symptoms, it is advisable to visit the doctor at the earliest. Also, a person having a high risk of developing Adrenal Cancer should go for a diagnosis once or twice a year.


How Can I As A Patient Know It Early?

Being aware of the symptoms, and any health issue that might indicate the presence of the disease needs to be examined thoroughly. Also, a few lab tests and regular tests can also sometimes unveil the presence of the hideous disease.