Adrenal cancer is a rare disease that originates in the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are located on top of the kidneys and consist of two parts that function separately. The first part is referred to as the cortex (outer layer). The second part is referred to as the medulla (inner area). Nearly all adrenal tumors are benign (non-cancerous) and therefore do not require treatment.
The most common type of adrenal cancer is called adrenocortical carcinoma. Adrenocortical carcinoma develops in the adrenal cortex and may produce symptoms related to increased hormone production, if it is a functioning tumor. Non-functioning adrenal cancer tumors do not produce hormones and may cause pain from pressure applied to the abdominal organs.
A second type of adrenal cancer is called pheochromocytoma which is an extremely rare type of cancer that originates in cells that produce epinephrine and norepinephrine. This form of adrenal cancer is most prevalent among those in their 30's and 40's.
Neuroblastoma is the third type of adrenal cancer. This adrenal cancer develops in the adrenal medulla and typically originates in undeveloped nerve cells. Abdominal pain and bone pain are usually symptoms experienced with neuroblastoma. This type of cancer generally appears in infants and children.
Approximately 1 out of 1 million people worldwide develop adrenal cancer. What causes adrenal cancer is unknown. It is believed that sometimes heredity plays a role, so if there is a diagnosis of adrenal gland cancer in your family, you may want to consider genetic testing.