Adrenal Cancer

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Causes, Risk Factors, and Prevention TOPICS

What are the risk factors for adrenal cancer?

A risk factor is anything that changes your chance of getting a disease such as cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors. Some risk factors, like smoking, can be changed. Others, like a person’s age or family history, can’t be changed.

Scientists have found few risk factors that make a person more likely to develop adrenal gland tumors. Even if a patient does have one or more risk factors for adrenal gland tumors, it is impossible to know for sure how much that risk factor contributed to causing the cancer.

But having a risk factor, or even several, does not mean that you will get the disease. Many people with risk factors never develop adrenal cancer, while others with this disease may have few or no known risk factors.

Genetic syndromes

The vast majority of adrenal cortex cancers are sporadic (not inherited), but some (up to 15%) are caused by a genetic defect. This is more common in adrenal cancers in children.

Li-Fraumeni syndrome

The Li-Fraumeni syndrome is a rare condition which is most often caused by a defect in the TP53 gene. People with this syndrome have a high risk of several types of cancers, including include breast cancer, bone cancer, brain cancer, and adrenal cortex cancer.

Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome

People with this problem have large tongues, are large themselves, and have an increased risk for developing cancers of the kidney, liver, and adrenal cortex.

Multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN1)

People with MEN1 have a very high risk of developing tumors of 3 glands: the pituitary, parathyroid, and pancreas. About one-third to one-half of people with this condition also develop adrenal adenomas or enlarged adrenal glands. These usually do not cause any symptoms. This syndrome is caused by defects in a gene called MEN1. People who have a family history of MEN1 or pituitary, parathyroid, pancreas, or adrenal cancers should ask their doctor if they might benefit from genetic counseling.

Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)

People with this syndrome develop hundreds of polyps in the large intestine. These polyps will lead to colon cancer if the colon is not removed. FAP also increases the risk of other cancers, and may increase the risk for adrenal cancer. Still, most adrenal tumors in patients with FAP are benign adenomas. This syndrome is caused by defects in a gene called APC.

Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer

Patients with hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC, also called Lynch syndrome) have a high risk of colorectal cancer as well as, in women, endometrial cancer. They also have an increased risk of some other cancers, including cancer of the adrenal cortex.

In most cases, this disorder is caused by an inherited defect in either the gene MLH1 or the gene MSH2, but other genes can also cause HNPCC. HNPCC is discussed in more detail in our document Colorectal Cancer.

Lifestyle and environmental factors

Risk factors such as a high-fat diet, smoking, sedentary lifestyle, and exposure to cancer-causing substances in the environment have a great impact on a person's risk of developing many types of cancer. Although none of these factors has been definitely found to influence a person's risk of developing adrenal cancer, smoking has been suggested as a risk factor by some researchers.


Last Medical Review: 03/19/2014
Last Revised: 04/10/2014