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Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the
Harvard Medical School

What Is It?

Adrenocortical carcinomais a cancer of the adrenal gland. The condition is also called cancer of the adrenal cortex, adrenal cortical cancer, or adrenocortical cancer. This cancer is very rare.

The adrenal gland is a small organ above the kidney. It makes important hormones. There are two adrenal glands in the body. One sits on top of each kidney. Adrenal glands are part of the endocrine system. Your endocrine system helps regulate body activities.

Adrenocortical carcinoma develops in the outer layer of the adrenal gland. This layer is called the cortex. It produces hormones that

  • help control blood pressure

  • balance water and salt in the body

  • help manage the body's use of protein, fat, and carbohydrates

  • cause a person to have male or female characteristics.

Adrenocortical cancer can spread to other parts of the body including the lungs, liver, or bones.

Small lumps on the adrenal gland are not uncommon. They are usually benign (noncancerous) growths called adrenal adenomas. In some cases, doctors may have trouble distinguishing an adenoma from a cancer, so you may need special testing or repeat examinations.

Another type of adrenal gland tumor, called a pheochromocytoma, can develop in the inner part of the gland, or adrenal medulla. However, this article will only discuss cancers that arise in the adrenal cortex.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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