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 care team includes fellowship-trained cancer surgeons that are nationally recognized leaders at the forefront of their field as well as physical therapists, dietitians, social workers, and more as well as other members of the CaLM Care Team who work together to help you get back to the things in your life that matter most to you.
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 cancer treatment. We also work closely with your referring provider and the Livestrong Cancer Institutes to provide integrated, whole-person care. We focus on applying advanced surgical techniques, including robotic and laparoscopic surgery and other minimally invasive approaches, in combination with comprehensive attention to your complex needs, including nutrition, physical therapy, psychosocial wellbeing, and financial support. Advanced imaging and lab testing are also available on-site if needed.