About Adrenal Cancer

Your endocrine system is a set of organs and glands that produce hormones, which your tissues use to send signals to each other. The adrenal glands are located in the abdomen, just above your kidneys. Most often, cancers that are found in the adrenal gland are the result of a cancer that formed elsewhere in the body that has spread to the adrenal gland. Adrenal cancers are extremely rare and most adrenal nodules are noncancerous, although all should be evaluated for hormonal imbalances and require surveillance to ensure your condition does not spread.

Types of Adrenal Cancer

Different types of primary adrenal cancer are distinguished from where the condition initially forms. The most common primary adrenal cancer, adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC), forms on the outer portion of the adrenal gland known as the cortex. This region of the adrenal gland secretes hormones such as cortisol (a stress hormone), aldosterone (helps control blood pressure), and androgens (precursors to the sex hormones, estrogen and testosterone).

Other types of adrenal cancer include:

  • Metastases: A cancerous tumor that spreads to the adrenal cortex
  • Neuroblastoma: A form of cancer that may develop in nervous system tissue within the inner portion of the adrenal gland (adrenal medulla) that is most common in children
  • Pheochromocytoma: A tumor that forms on the adrenal medulla, which is usually benign

Symptoms of Adrenal Cancer

Symptoms associated with adrenal cancer are a result of both the hormonal disruptions caused by the condition and the growth of the cancer tissue itself.

Symptoms of adrenal cancer may include:

  • Abdominal pain or fullness
  • Changes in body hair
  • High blood sugar
  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular menstrual period
  • Loss of bone health
  • Mood changes
  • Muscle weakness
  • Unintended weight gain

Risk Factors for Adrenal Cancer

Certain people are more likely to develop adrenal cancer.

Risk factors for adrenal cancer may include:

  • Family history: Many inherited genetic conditions, including Lynch syndrome, familial adenomatous polyposis, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, and multiple endocrine neoplasia, are associated with adrenal cancer.
  • Personal history: Some research suggests smoking may put you at higher risk for adrenal cancer.

Treating Adrenal Cancer at UT Health Austin

Adrenal cancers are usually treated with surgery, which may be combined with radiation, chemotherapy, and hormonal treatments depending on your individual presentation. At UT Health Austin, treatment begins with a consultation in which a member of our surgical team will evaluate the extent of your condition. Most patients with adrenal cancer undergo surgery to remove the adrenal gland, and many receive additional treatment to prevent the cancer from recurring and to address any hormonal imbalances resulting from the condition. Your care team will work with you to determine the best course of treatment.

Care Team Approach

At UT Health Austin, we take a multidisciplinary approach to your care. This means you will benefit from the expertise of multiple specialists across a variety of disciplines caring for you in one place to avoid having to schedule multiple appointments with providers at locations all over the city. The Surgical Oncology Clinic team includes a fellowship-trained endocrine surgeon who specializes in diagnosing and treating cancerous and noncancerous conditions that affect the thyroid, parathyroid, and adrenal glands. Whether your endocrine condition is cancerous or not, the Surgical Oncology team works closely with your referring provider and the Livestrong Cancer Institutes to provide integrated, whole-person care.

Through our Multidisciplinary Case Conferences, we collaborate with our colleagues at the Dell Medical School and The University of Texas at Austin to utilize the latest research, diagnostic, and treatment techniques, allowing us to identify new therapies to improve your treatment. We focus on applying advanced surgical techniques, including minimally invasive approaches, and nonsurgical treatments such as radiofrequency ablation. These procedures are offered with comprehensive attention to your complex needs, including medication management, nutrition, physical therapy, psychosocial wellbeing, and financial support. Advanced imaging and lab testing are also available on-site if needed.

Learn More About Your Care Team

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Livestrong Cancer Institutes

Health Transformation Building, 8th Floor
1601 Trinity Street, Bldg. A, Austin, Texas 78712
1-833-UT-CARES (1-833-882-2737)
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Surgical Oncology

Health Transformation Building, 8th Floor
1601 Trinity Street, Bldg. A, Austin, Texas 78712
1-833-UT-CARES (1-833-882-2737)
Get Directions