Chemotherapy (often just called chemo) is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Usually the drugs are given into a vein or by mouth as a pill. Once the drugs enter the bloodstream, they go throughout the body. Chemo does not cure adrenal cancer. It is most often used for adrenal cancer that has spread or come back after surgery.
The drug most often used for people with adrenal cancer is a drug called mitotane. Mitotane is helpful for people with adrenal carcinomas who are having problems from too much hormones being made. Even when it doesn't shrink the tumor, mitotane can reduce the amount of hormones and relieve symptoms. But this drug can cause major side effects. The most common are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, rashes, and sleepiness. Sometimes lower doses of the drug can still work well while causing fewer side effects.
Giving mitotane after the cancer is removed may help keep the cancer from growing back. This is called adjuvant chemotherapy. It works well for other types of cancer, but has not been studied well in adrenal cortex cancer.
There are other chemo drugs that can be used to treat adrenal cancer, too. Chemo can cause side effects. The side effects depend on the type of drugs given, the amount taken, and how long the treatment lasts. Side effects could include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Hair loss (hair grows back after treatment)
- Hand and foot rashes
- Mouth sores
- Increased chance of infection (from low white blood cell counts)
- Bleeding or bruising easily (from a shortage of blood platelets)
- Tiredness (from low red blood cell counts)
If you have side effects, your doctor or nurse can suggest steps to ease them. For example, there are drugs to help control and prevent nausea and vomiting. The good news is that most side effects go away over time when your treatment ends.
Other drugs to treat adrenal cancer
Other drugs besides mitotane may be used to block hormone production by the cancer. These can help relieve symptoms caused by these hormones, but they don't shrink the cancer.
Last Medical Review: 04/22/2010
Last Revised: 06/22/2010