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Adrenocortical carcinoma

 

Definition

Adrenocortical carcinoma is a cancer of the adrenal glands.

Alternative Names

Tumor - adrenal

Causes

Adrenocortical carcinoma is most common in children younger than 5 and adults in their 30s and 40s.

Adrenocortical carcinoma may be linked to a cancer syndrome that is passed down through families (inherited). Both men and women can develop this tumor. Adrenocortical carcinoma can produce the hormones cortisol, estrogen, or aldosterone. In women the tumor often releases the hormones, which can lead to male characteristics.

The cause is unknown. About 2 people per million develop this type of tumor.

Symptoms

Symptoms that suggest increased cortisol production:

  • Fatty, rounded hump high on the back just below the neck (buffalo hump)
  • Flushed rounded face with pudgy cheeks (moon face )
  • Obesity
  • Stunted growth in height (short stature)
  • Virilization - the appearance of male characteristics, including increased body hair especially on face, pubic hair, acne, deepening of voice, and enlarged clitoris (girls)

Symptoms that suggest increased aldosterone production are the same as symptoms of low potassium and include weakness, muscle cramps, increased thirst, and urination.

Signs and tests

A physical exam reveals high blood pressure. Blood work will be done to check hormone levels:

Imaging tests may include:

Support Groups

Expectations (prognosis)

The outcome depends on how early the diagnosis is made and whether the tumor has spread (metastasized). Tumors that have spread often lead to death within 1 to 3 years.

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if you or your child has symptoms of adrenocortical carcinoma, Cushing syndrome, or failure to grow.

Complications

The tumor can spread to the liver, bone, lung, or other areas.

Treatments

Primary treatment is surgery to remove the tumor. Adrenocortical carcinoma may not improve with chemotherapy. Medications may be given to reduce production of cortisol, which causes many of the symptoms.

Prevention

References

Lal G, O’Dorisio T, McDougall R, Weigel RJ. Cancer of the endocrine system. In: Abeloff MD, Armitage JO, Niederhuber JE, Kastan MB, McKena WG, eds. Clinical Oncology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2008:chap 75.


Review Date: 11/10/2008
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and James R. Mason, MD, Oncologist, Director, Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program and Stem Cell Processing Lab, Scripps Clinic, Torrey Pines, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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