Adrenal Cancer Types

Most (99 percent) adrenal tumors are noncancerous (i.e., benign) adrenal cortical adenomas and do not require treatment. These tumors usually do not cause symptoms, are small, and are found incidentally during diagnostic imaging.

The most common type of adrenal cancer develops in the adrenal cortex and is called adrenocortical carcinoma. Functioning adrenocortical carcinomas may produce symptoms related to increased hormone production.

Nonfunctioning tumors may cause pain from pressure on abdominal organs and a mass in the abdomen that is able to be felt with the fingers (palpable).

Cancers that develop in the adrenal medulla include neuroblastoma (originates in undeveloped nerve cells) and pheochromocytoma (originates in cells that produce epinephrine and norephinephrine). Neuroblastoma usually occurs in infants and children and pheochromocytoma more commonly occurs in people who are in their 30s and 40s.

Other types of cancer (e.g., breast, lung) may spread (metastasize) to the adrenal glands.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 09 Jun 1998

Last Modified: 28 Aug 2015