Adrenal Cancer (Adrenocortical Carcinoma)

Adrenal cancer, which is very rare, typically develops in the cortex (outer part) of the adrenal gland. It is often discovered accidentally on an imaging test done to look for something else.

Overview and Symptoms

Adrenal cancer is a rare cancer that begins in one or both of adrenal glands located on top of your kidneys. Adrenal cancer, also called adrenocortical cancer, can occur at any age. But it's most likely to affect adults in their 40s and 50s.

Signs and symptoms of adrenal cancer include:

  • Weight gain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Pink or purple stretch marks on the skin
  • Hormone changes in women that might cause excess facial hair, hair loss on the head and irregular periods
  • Hormone changes in men that might cause enlarged breast tissue and shrinking testicles
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Back pain
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of weight without trying


Tests and procedures used to diagnose adrenal cancer include blood and urine tests and imaging such as CT, MRI or PET scans.

Treatment at BIDMC


During surgery, if surgeons find evidence that cancer has spread to nearby organs, such as the liver or kidney, parts or all of those organs might also be removed during the operation.


Medications helps to reduce the risk of recurrence after surgery.

Radiation Therapy

Sometimes radiation is given 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.


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.

Endocrine Surgery

Our endocrine surgeons are highly skilled in treating conditions of the thyroid, parathyroid and adrenal glands.

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