Adrenal Cortical Cancer | Cancer


Adrenal Cortical Cancer

Our team diagnoses and treats all stages of adrenal cortical cancer in children and adults. You receive world-class care from experienced, compassionate cancer specialists.

Medically reviewed by Michael Campbell, M.D. on Nov. 20, 2023.

An oncologist touching the shoulder of an older male patient

What Is Adrenal Cortical Cancer?

Adrenal cortical cancer, or adrenocortical carcinoma, affects the outer layer of your adrenal glands. You have two adrenal glands in your upper abdomen, one on top of each kidney. These glands make hormones that control essential functions, such as blood pressure, metabolism and male or female characteristics.

Adrenal cortical cancer is rare, but experts at UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center have the knowledge and experience to treat this disease. Your team includes every specialist you need, including endocrine surgeons, oncologists, radiologists, surgical oncologists, dietitians and genetic counselors.

The skill and expertise of our team have earned us a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center designation


Adrenal Cortical Cancer Symptoms

Symptoms of adrenal cortical cancer depend on many factors, including your age and the type of tumor and its stage.

Functional Adrenal Cortical Cancer Symptoms

A functional adrenal cortical tumor makes adrenal hormones, such as aldosterone, cortisol, estrogen or testosterone. Your symptoms relate to the hormones the tumor is making and your biological sex. If you have a functioning adrenal cortical tumor, your symptoms may include:

  • Diabetes or high blood sugar
  • Early puberty in children
  • Frequent urination
  • Fine hair growth on your face or upper back
  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular menstrual periods, deepening voice or balding in females
  • Lump of fat on the back of your neck
  • Lower sex drive, erectile dysfunction or breast tissue growth in males
  • Muscle cramps or weakness
  • Round, red face
  • Weight gain in your face, neck or torso

Non-Functional Adrenal Cortical Cancer Symptoms

A non-functional adrenal cortical tumor does not make adrenal hormones. Often, it does not cause symptoms, especially in the earlier stages. If you do have symptoms, you may experience:

  • Abdominal or back pain
  • Bloating
  • Feeling of fullness in your abdomen
  • Lump in your abdomen or back

Causes and Risk Factors of Adrenal Cortical Cancer

An adrenal cortical tumor occurs when a cell in your adrenal cortex (outer layer of your adrenal gland) becomes damaged. The damaged cell grows and divides uncontrollably, eventually forming a tumor. Tumors can occur in one or both of your adrenal glands. Most tumors in the adrenal glands are not cancer.

Experts don’t know exactly why adrenal cortical cancer occurs. But at UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, we continue to study this disease to look for new ways to detect and treat it.

Adrenal cortical tumors are more likely to affect people with certain rare inherited conditions, including: 

Beckwith-Wiedemann Syndrome

This disorder causes high birth weight in babies, as well as an enlarged tongue and internal organs.

Carney Complex

Also called Carney syndrome, this condition causes dark spots on the skin and tumors in your endocrine glands, heart, nerves and skin.

Li-Fraumeni Syndrome

This syndrome increases your risk of many different cancers at an early age.


Diagnosis and Testing for Adrenal Cortical Cancer

Our leading academic physicians use their years of expertise to diagnose adrenal cortical tumors. We ask you about your symptoms and concerns and perform a physical exam.

Then, we may order specialized tests, including:

  • Biopsy: If we find a growth on your adrenal glands, we may collect a sample of the cells. Our pathologists study the sample in our state-of-the-art laboratory to identify the tumor type.
  • Blood and urine tests: Our team measures your hormones, blood sugar and sodium levels to look for possible signs of an imbalance.
  • Imaging tests: We use the most advanced imaging tests, including PET scans and MRIs. Our radiologists examine your images and provide the answers you need.

Adrenal Cortical Cancer Treatments

At UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, we offer the newest treatments for adrenal cortical cancer. You receive personalized treatment based on the tumor type, stage and location. We walk you through each step of your care, which may include:


Experts in our Division of Hematology and Oncology offer the most effective chemotherapy medications. Our experience allows us to provide tailored treatment that will be most effective for you. 

Learn more
Radiation Therapy

Our Department of Radiation Oncology provides advanced therapies with leading-edge technology. You receive a customized plan that targets the tumor while minimizing damage to surrounding tissue.

Learn more about radiation therapy

Many people with adrenal cortical tumors benefit from adrenalectomy (adrenal gland removal). Our surgical oncologists have robust knowledge and experience in this procedure.

Learn more about surgical oncology
Clinical Trials

We provide the newest therapies for adrenal cortical tumors through clinical trials. These therapies are not widely available and offer hope for cancers that are difficult to treat.

Learn more about our cancer clinical trials

Annual cases

600U.S. adults and children are diagnosed with adrenal cortical cancer each year

Average age

46For adrenal cortical cancer diagnosis

Source: American Society of Clinical Oncology: Adrenal Gland Tumor: Statistics

Request an Appointment

Our cancer specialists provide thorough evaluations and personalized treatment plans. Learn more about how to make an appointment at UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.



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