What are the risk factors for adrenal cancer?
A risk factor is anything that changes a person's chance of getting a disease such as cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors. For example, unprotected exposure to strong sunlight is a risk factor for skin cancer and smoking is a risk factor for cancers of the lungs, mouth, larynx, esophagus, bladder, and several other organs. 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.
The vast majority of adrenal cortex cancers are sporadic (not inherited), but some, particularly in children, are caused by a genetic defect.
The Li-Fraumeni syndrome is a very rare condition in which a genetic defect in a gene called p53 leads to a greatly increased risk of developing several types of cancers. These include breast cancer, bone cancers, brain cancer, and adrenal cortex cancer.
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.
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: 11/07/2012
Last Revised: 01/17/2013