The American Association of Endocrine Surgeons, Patient Education Site

Adrenocortical carcinoma
(adrenal cancer)

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Signs and Symptoms

There is usually no obvious sign or symptom that an adult has an ACC. This fact makes it very hard to diagnose ACC at an early stage. These are typically aggressive tumors which grow quickly and spread rapidly. Occasionally, patients may feel pain in the back or sides because the tumor is growing so quickly or is so large. ACC can be hyperactive and make too much of any of the hormones that the adrenal cortex makes (i.e. aldosteroneAldosterone - a mineralocorticoid that controls blood pressure, cortisolCortisol - a glucocorticoid that controls glucose production and suppresses the immune system, sex hormones). The most common symptoms of this hormoneHormone - a chemical made by a gland that travels in the bloodstream and "tells organs what to do." overproduction are high blood pressure, weight gain and diabetes. Since these are widespread conditions in middle-aged adults, the possible connection with an adrenal tumor is often overlooked until the disease is very far along. One key warning sign is these symptoms develop rapidly.

If the adrenal tumor is slow-growing and non-functional – meaning it does not affect hormone production – there are no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. This type of tumor is sometimes diagnosed "by accident" if the patient has a CAT scan for some other reason. (See Adrenal Incidentaloma)

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