Adrenocortical Carcinoma: Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

Adrenocortical carcinoma is cancer of the adrenal cortex. The adrenal glands are two glands located above each kidney. The glands produce important hormones. These hormones regulate heart rate, blood pressure, and many other vital functions, including response to stress and infection. The adrenal cortex is the outside layer of the two adrenal glands.

Cancers of the adrenal cortex are rare. The majority of these tumors produce excess hormones. The excess hormones can change hormonal balance.

diagram of adrenal gland of the kidneys
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The cause of adrenocortical carcinoma is unknown.

Adrenocortical Carcinoma Risk Factors

A genetic defect may cause adrenocortical cancer in some children, but the majority of cases are nonhereditary.


Approximately 40% of people with adrenocortical carcinoma do not secrete any hormone. These people do not have any specific symptoms. Adrenocortical carcinoma is discovered as part of a physical examination for abdominal pain.

Other tumors are hormonally active. Excess hormones may produce symptoms such as:

  • Pain in the abdomen, side, and/or back
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Unintended weight loss


Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests

Images may be needed of your bodily structures. These can be made with:

  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • Positron emission tomography (PET)/CT scan
  • Adrenal angiography and/or venography
  • X-ray


A doctor will determine the best treatment plan for you dependent upon on the stage of the tumor and your overall health.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.