What's New in Adrenal Cancer Research and Treatment?

Research focused on adrenal cancer is currently under way. Imaging tests for diagnosing this cancer, medical laboratory tests to more accurately distinguish adenomas from carcinomas, and new treatments are being studied. Progress in this research tends to be slow because adrenal cancer is so rare. Other studies of more general aspects of cancer that can be applied to adrenal cancers as well as other types of cancers are also being done.


Although adrenal cancer can be hard to study, experts are looking for new drugs that may help as well as looking at the value of accepted treatments.

One ongoing important study (called ADIUVO) is testing the value of mitotane in the treatment of patients with early-stage adrenal cancers that have been removed with surgery. The goal of the study is to see if mitotane lowers the chance of the cancer coming back and helps patients live longer.

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy is a newer type of cancer treatment that uses drugs or other substances to attack the programming that makes cancer cells different from normal, healthy cells. Each type of targeted therapy works differently, but all alter the way a cancer cell grows, divides, repairs itself, or interacts with other cells. Targeted drugs have been effective for several more common types of cancer but their value for adrenal cancer is still not known.

Cixutumumab is a targeted drug that shows promise in treating adrenal cancer. This drug blocks the effect of a certain hormone called insulin-like growth factor 2 (IGF2) that is suspected of increasing growth of adrenal cancers. In one study, giving this drug with another targeted drug called temsirolimus stopped tumor growth for months in many patients.

Some other targeted drugs have been studied in adrenal cancer, but have not been very helpful.


Scientists are learning how changes in certain oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes can cause normal adrenal cortex cells to become cancerous. Understanding these genetic changes will help doctors develop better methods to diagnose this disease as well as treatments that are more effective and have fewer side effects than those currently available. Medical centers involved in research may ask their patients for blood samples and about diseases in other family members to learn more about adrenal cancer. This happens usually as part of studies. These studies are different from treatment studies. The goal of these studies is to enhance research of this rare cancer, to learn more about how adrenal cancer forms, and in the future find new targets for adrenal cancer therapy.

For example, there have been several studies looking at what genetic syndromes can lead to adrenal cancer. (These syndromes were discussed in What Are the Risk Factors for Adrenal Cancer?) International groups are working to understand how adrenal cancer develops. Hopefully, these efforts will give insight into how adrenal cancers develop and provide better targets for therapy.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: March 19, 2014 Last Revised: February 25, 2015

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