Adrenal cancer stages

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by

Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science

This page was updated on June 7, 2022.


Following an adrenal cancer diagnosis, the care team reviews the patient's pathology to confirm the diagnosis and determine the stage of disease. Staging cancer is one of the most important factors in developing a personalized adrenal cancer treatment plan.

If the adrenal cancer has returned after therapy, the care team will perform comprehensive testing to identify a treatment approach tailored to the patient's needs.

How adrenal cancer is staged

Guidelines developed by the American Joint Committee on Cancer are often used to stage adrenal cancer and allow doctors to communicate important information about the cancer with one another in a standardized way. Adrenal cancer stages are based on three categories, listed below.

T (tumor): This describes the size of the original tumor.

N (node): This indicates whether the cancer is present in the lymph nodes.

M (metastasis): This refers to whether cancer has spread (metastasized) to other parts of the body.

Once the individual T, N and M scores have been established, an overall stage is assigned.

Stages of adrenal cancer

Stage 1 adrenal cancer

The tumor is smaller than 2 inches (5 centimeters) and has not spread beyond the adrenal gland.

Stage 2 adrenal cancer

The tumor is larger than 2 inches (5 centimeters) but has not yet spread outside of the adrenal gland.

Stage 3 adrenal cancer

The tumor has spread into nearby tissues or lymph nodes. Size is not a factor.

Stage 4 adrenal cancer

The tumor may be any size, and tumors have spread throughout the body to distant sites farther away from the adrenal gland.

Adrenal cancer survival rate

Identifying the stage of cancer not only helps the care team determine a treatment plan, it also helps predict a potential prognosis. This is achieved by calculating the percentage of people with adrenal cancer who survive at least five years after diagnosis compared to people who don’t have that type of cancer. It’s important to remember that this is only a statistic based on all people with adrenal cancer several years in the past, so individual patient experiences may vary. 

The American Cancer Society (ACS) shares adrenal cancer survival rates from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program. The survival rate for adrenal cancer is based on where the cancer started and how far the cancer has spread, as indicated below.

Localized: The cancer has not spread outside the adrenal gland. The five-year relative survival rate for localized adrenal cancer is about 73 percent.

Regional: The cancer has spread to nearby tissues or lymph nodes. The five-year relative survival rate for regional adrenal cancer is about 53 percent.

Distant: The cancer has spread to farther reaches of the body. The five-year relative survival rate for distant adrenal cancer is about 38 percent.

The overall five-year relative survival rate for adrenal cancer is 50 percent, according to the ACS.

Keep in mind that the survival rate for adrenal cancer depends on a variety of factors, including the patient’s age, overall health and the extent of the disease, so always talk to the care team about the patient’s individual prognosis.

Next topic: How is adrenal cancer diagnosed?

Expert cancer care

is one call away.
appointments in as little as 24 hrs.