Stages of adrenal gland cancer

Staging describes or classifies a cancer based on how much cancer there is in the body and where it is when first diagnosed. This is often called the extent of cancer. Information from tests is used to find out the size of the tumour, whether the cancer has spread from where it first started and where the cancer has spread. Your healthcare team uses the stage to plan treatment and estimate the outcome (your prognosis).

The following stages apply only to adrenocortical carcinomas (ACC) (cancerous tumours of the adrenal cortex). They do not apply to cancerous pheochromocytomas or other tumours of the adrenal gland.

The most common staging system for ACC is the TNM system. For ACC there are 4 stages. Often the stages 1 to 4 are written as the Roman numerals I, II, III and IV. Generally, the higher the stage number, the more the cancer has spread. Talk to your doctor if you have questions about staging.

When describing the stage, doctors may use the words local, regional or distant. Local means that the cancer is only in the adrenal gland and has not spread to other parts of the body. Regional means close to the adrenal gland or around it. Distant means in a part of the body farther from the adrenal gland.

Find out more about staging cancer.

Stage 1

The tumour is 5 cm or smaller. It has not grown outside the adrenal gland.

Stage 2

The tumour is larger than 5 cm, but it has not grown outside the adrenal gland.

Stage 3

The cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes.

Or the tumour has grown into tissue just outside the adrenal gland or into nearby organs, such as a kidney, the diaphragm or the liver.

Stage 4

The cancer has spread to other parts of the body (called distant metastasis), such as to the colon, bone or lungs. This is also called metastatic cancer.

Recurrent adrenal gland cancer

Recurrent adrenal gland cancer means that the cancer has come back after it has been treated. If it comes back in the same place that the cancer first started, it’s called local recurrence. If it comes back in tissues or lymph nodes close to where it first started, it’s called regional recurrence. It can also recur in another part of the body. This is called distant metastasis or distant recurrence.

Expert review and references

  • American Joint Committee on Cancer. AJCC Cancer Staging Handbook. 7th ed. Chicago: Springer; 2010.
  • Brierley JD, Gospodarowicz MK, Wittekind C (eds.). TNM Classification of Malignant Tumours. 8th ed. Wiley Blackwell; 2017.

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