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.

Expert review and references

  • American Cancer Society. Adrenal Cancer. 2014: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003081-pdf.pdf.
  • Audenet F, Mejean A, Chartier-Kastler E & Roupret M . Adrenal tumours are more predominant in females regardless of their histological subtype: a review. World Journal of Urology. SpringerLink; 2013.
  • Lirov R, Else T, Lerario AM, Hammer GD . Adrenal tumors. DeVita VT Jr, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA. Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 10th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2015: 84:1195-1204.
  • Tumours of the adrenal glands. Macmillan Cancer Support. Macmillan Cancer Support. London, UK: Macmillan Cancer Support; 2013.
  • National Institutes of Health. Genetics Home Reference: Carney Complex. Bethesda, MD: US National Library of Medicine; 2010: https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/carney-complex.
  • Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome. National Institutes of Health. Genetics Home Reference. Bethesda, MD: U.S. National Library of Medicine; 2012.
  • National Institutes of Health. Genetics Home Reference: Neurofibromatosis Type 1. US National Library of Medicine; 2012: https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/neurofibromatosis-type-1.
  • Li-Fraumeni syndrome. National Institutes of Health. Genetics Home Reference. Bethesda, MD: U.S. National Library of Medicine; 2007.
  • National library of medicine . Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP). National Institutes of Health. Genetics Home Reference. Bethesda, MD: U.S. National Library of Medicine; 2013: http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/familial-adenomatous-polyposis.
  • Phan AT, Habbra MA, Gurbbs EG, Moran C . Adrenal neoplasms. Raghavan D, Blanke CD, Honson DH, et al (editors). Textbook of Uncommon Cancer. 4th ed. Wiley Blackwell; 2012: 3(10):163-187.
  • U S National library of medicine . Multiple endocrine neoplasia. National Institutes of Health. Genetics Home Reference. Bethesda, MD: U.S. National Library of Medicine; 2013: http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/multiple-endocrine-neoplasia.
  • U S National library of medicine . Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome. National Institutes of Health. Genetics Home Reference. Bethesda, MD: U.S. National Library of Medicine; 2015: http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/beckwith-wiedemann-syndrome.