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Adrenal cancer

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science

This page was updated on July 19, 2022.

Adrenal cancer is a rare disease, affecting about 600 people in the United States annually, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology. However, adrenal tumors are found in about one in every 10 people who have an imaging test of the adrenal gland. The majority of adrenal gland tumors are noncancerous (benign tumors) and are called adenomas. Adrenal cancer is diagnosed when abnormal cells develop in or travel to the adrenal glands, the tiny glands above the kidneys. The disease is most often discovered as a tumor in the glands’ outer part, known as the adrenal cortex, which produces hormones, such as cortisol and aldosterone, and helps the body manage stress and regulate blood pressure.

No adrenal cancer patient is the same. Get personalized treatment.

At City of Hope, we treat adrenal cancer using a multi-faceted approach. A team of experts may perform a variety of imaging and laboratory tests, such as CT scans, MRI or ultrasound, to accurately diagnose and stage the disease. These same tests may be used to monitor the response to treatment and modify treatment plans accordingly.

As part of our whole-person care model, our hospitals and outpatient clinics integrate an array of supportive care therapiesnutrition therapy, pain management, oncology rehabilitation and individual and group counseling, for example—to help manage cancer’s physical and psychological side effects.

This overview will cover the basic facts about adrenal cancer, including:

If you believe you may be experiencing symptoms of adrenal cancer and want to schedule an appointment for diagnostic testing, or if you’re interested in a second opinion on your adrenal cancer diagnosis and treatment plan, call us or chat online with a member of our team.

What causes adrenal cancer?

Who gets adrenal cancer?

Tumors can occur at any age. Adrenal cancer is most common in middle-aged adults, with 46 being the average age of diagnosis. One form of adrenal cancer, neuroblastoma, usually affects infants or children under 10.


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Kidney Cancer

"My care team was clear in explaining everything to me and answering my questions. I never felt they made promises to me, yet I had found hope. City of Hope gave me treatment options, and that’s what I wanted because I wasn’t ready to give up. "


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Adrenal cancer types

The adrenals are small, triangular glands that sit on top of each kidney and function as part of the endocrine system. The three common types of adrenal cancer affect different parts of the adrenal glands:

  • Adrenocortical carcinoma (also called adrenal cortex cancer, adrenocortical cancer, adrenal cortical carcinoma or ACC) forms in the outer layer of the adrenal gland
  • Pheochromocytoma forms in the inner part of the adrenal medulla
  • Neuroblastoma forms in nerve cells of adrenal medulla

Learn more about adrenal cancer types

Adrenal cancer symptoms

Diagnosing adrenal cancer

Blood and urine tests that look for irregular levels of adrenal hormones may detect adrenal cancer before symptoms develop. Other tests used for diagnosing adrenal cancer—depending on factors such as the tumor’s size and location—include:

Learn more about diagnostic procedures for adrenal cancer

Adrenal cancer treatment options

Our approach to helping you maintain your quality of life

At City of Hope, we understand that managing the side effects of cancer and its treatment is often just as critical as treating the disease. Common side effects of adrenal cancer treatment include nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, hair loss, pain and a decreased appetite. That’s why your care team includes supportive care therapists who are available to help you manage both the physical and psychological impacts of cancer treatment.

For example, an oncology-trained registered dietitian may be able to help you navigate your decreased appetite by developing a nutrition plan for you. If you’re experiencing pain, the pain management physician on your team may recommend interventional procedures like nerve blocks that numb the pain around the tumor, or pain pumps that release concentrated pain medication on the spine.

Our integrative approach to cancer care means we treat the disease with conventional tools while also supporting patients with evidence-informed therapies—all under one roof.