Adrenal Cortical Cancer Overview

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Causes, Risk Factors, and Prevention TOPICS

What causes adrenal cancer?

Scientists do not know exactly what causes most adrenal cortical tumors. Over the past few years, they have made great progress in learning how certain changes in a person's DNA can cause cells in the adrenal to become cancer. DNA carries the instructions for nearly all the things our cells do. We often look like our parents because they are the source of our DNA. But DNA affects more than the way we look. DNA changes play a part in our risk for getting certain diseases, including some types of cancer. Most DNA changes that are seen in cancers happen during life rather than having been inherited. These changes may be caused by exposure to radiation or cancer-causing chemicals. But most of these changes happen for no known reason.

A risk factor is anything that increases a person's chance of getting a disease. Different cancers have different risk factors. Some risk factors, such as smoking, can be controlled. Others, like a person's age or race, can't be changed. But scientists have found a few risk factors that make a person more likely to get adrenal cancer. But even if a person does have one or more risk factors for adrenal gland tumors, we can't know for sure how large a part they played in causing the cancer.

Family history: Most adrenal cancers are not linked to heredity. But certain clusters of symptoms called syndromes can cause a higher risk of several types of cancer, including adrenal cancer. Some of these syndromes are:

  • Li-Fraumeni syndrome
  • Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome
  • Multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN-1)
  • Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)

Smoking: Smoking has been suggested as a risk factor by some researchers.


Last Medical Review: 04/22/2010
Last Revised: 06/22/2010