Adrenal gland

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Risk factors for adrenal gland cancer

A risk factor is something that increases the risk of developing cancer. It could be a behaviour, substance or condition. Most cancers are the result of many risk factors. But sometimes adrenal gland cancer develops in people who don’t have any of the risk factors described below.

Adrenal gland cancer is rare. Women are slightly more likely than men to develop adrenal gland cancer.

The following are risk factors for adrenal gland cancer. All of the known risk factors are not modifiable. This means that you can’t change or avoid them. Until we learn more about these risk factors, there are no specific ways you can reduce your risk.

Risk factors are generally listed in order from most to least important. But in most cases, it is impossible to rank them with absolute certainty.

Known risk factors

The most important risk factor for adrenal gland cancer is having a hereditary disorder that increases the risk of developing certain cancers. These disorders are passed from parent to child through information contained in genes. About 10%–15% of adrenocortical carcinomas (ACC), the most common type of adrenal gland cancer, are linked with a hereditary disorder. And 25%–30% of pheochromocytomas, the 2nd most common type of adrenal gland tumour, are linked with a hereditary disorder.

There is convincing evidence that the following hereditary disorders increase your risk for adrenal gland cancer.

Multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN)

MEN affects the endocrine system. It is linked with the development of tumours in more than one endocrine gland.

There are 2 types of MEN. Multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1) is linked with adrenocortical carcinoma. Multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 (MEN2) is linked with pheochromocytoma.

Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) syndrome

VHL syndrome affects blood vessels in the eyes, brain, spinal cord, adrenal glands or other parts of the body, making them grow abnormally. It increases the risk of pheochromocytoma.

Neurofibromatosis type 1

Neurofibromatosis type 1 (also called von Recklinghausen disease) is linked with a higher risk for pheochromocytoma. Neurofibromatosis affects the nervous system, including the development and growth of neurons (nerve cells). It causes tumours (called neurofibromas) to grow on nerves and may cause other abnormalities in muscles, bones and skin.

Li-Fraumeni syndrome

Li-Fraumeni syndrome increases the risk of developing several different types of cancer, including adrenocortical carcinoma.

Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome

Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome affects how different parts of the body grow. It increases the risk of certain types of cancer, including adrenocortical carcinoma.

Carney complex

Carney complex causes changes in the colour of the skin and increases the risk of tumours in the heart, endocrine glands, skin and nerves. It also increases the risk of adrenocortical carcinoma.

Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)

FAP causes a large number of polyps to grow in the colon and rectum. It also increases the risk of developing adrenocortical carcinoma.

Unknown risk factors

It isn’t known whether or not smoking is linked with adrenal gland cancer. It may be that researchers can’t show a definite link or that studies have had different results. More research is needed to see if smoking is a risk factor for adrenal gland cancer.

Questions to ask your healthcare team

To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about risks.


The basic biological unit of heredity passed from parents to a child. Genes are pieces of DNA and determine a particular characteristic of an individual.

endocrine system

The group of glands and cells in the body that make and release hormones (which control many functions such as growth, reproduction, sleep, hunger and metabolism) into the blood.

The endocrine system is made up of the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, pineal gland, thyroid, parathyroid gland, adrenal gland, pancreatic islet cells (also known as islets of Langerhans) and the ovaries or testicles.


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