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Adrenocortical carcinoma — causes, side effects and treatments at

Wednesday, January 03, 2018 by

Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is a rare and often aggressive cancer caused by a tumor in the outer layer of the adrenal gland called the cortex. The adrenal glands play an important role in the endocrine system, which is the system that produces and regulates hormones that control metabolism and blood pressure. ACC may trigger excessive production of these hormones.

There are two types of adrenocortical carcinoma:

  1. Functioning tumors – increase the production of adrenal hormones. Large amounts of cortisol, testosterone, and aldosterone (hormone that regulates blood pressure) are usually found in the body.
  2. Non-functioning tumors – do not increase the adrenal glands’ hormonal production.

Most tumors on the adrenal glands are not cancerous. Only five to 10 percent of adrenal tumors are malignant.

Known side effects of adrenocortical carcinoma

ACC can produce the hormones cortisol, aldosterone, estrogen, or testosterone, as well as other hormones. In women, the tumor often releases these hormones, which can lead to male characteristics.

Cortisol helps the body use sugar, protein, and fats. Having too much of this hormone may cause:

  • Weight gain in the abdomen, face, neck, and chest
  • Excessive hair growth on the face, chest, back, or arms
  • Purple or pink stretch marks on the belly
  • A lump of fat behind the neck and shoulders
  • Deepening of the voice
  • Swelling of the sex organs or breasts (in men and women)
  • Irregular menstrual periods (in women)
  • Severe fatigue and muscle weakness
  • Easy bruising
  • Bone fractures
  • Moodiness and/or depression
  • High blood sugar
  • High blood pressure

Symptoms of increased aldosterone are the same as symptoms of low potassium:

  • Muscle cramps
  • Weakness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Frequent urination
  • Feeling thirsty
  • Fluid build-up in the body’s tissues

You may be at a high risk of developing ACC if you:

  • Are female
  • Are between the ages of 40 and 50
  • Have a hereditary disease that affects the adrenal glands
  • Have another form of aggressive cancer

The symptoms in children are different. An increase in male sex hormones can cause:

  • Excessive facial, pubic, and underarm hair
  • An enlarged penis (in boys)
  • An enlarged clitoris (in girls)

An excess in female sex hormones can cause:

  • Early puberty (in girls)
  • Breast enlargement (in boys)

Children under the age of five are at higher risk of ACC. However, it is a rare cancer, which means having one or more risk factors does not guarantee its development.

Body systems harmed by adrenocortical carcinoma

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

Food items or nutrients that may prevent adrenocortical carcinoma

Most adrenal gland tumors are not related to family history, but some are linked to genetic defects. Therefore, there is no concrete prevention plan for ACC. However, there are certain foods that heal adrenal glands. These are ones that are rich in:

  • Vitamin B – The B vitamins enhance the activity of the adrenal glands and also increase energy levels during times of stress. Foods high in vitamin B are beef, tuna, oats, turkey, Brazil nuts, bananas, potatoes, avocados, and legumes.
  • Vitamin C – The adrenals require this nutrient to produce cortisol. Foods high in vitamin C include citrus fruits, berries, peaches, mangoes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spring greens, and tomatoes.
  • L-tyrosine – L-tyrosine aids in adrenal function by relieving excess stress put on the glands. Sources of tyrosine include fish, chicken, pork, whole grains, wheat, oats, dairy, avocados, bananas, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

Treatments, management plans for adrenocortical carcinoma

The primary treatment for ACC is surgical removal of the tumor and the surrounding tissue in the adrenal gland. Depending on the stage of your cancer, these are other treatments available:

  • Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells in the body.
  • Radiation can be used to kill cancer cells. There are two types of radiation therapy — external therapy is applied from outside your body while internal therapy applies radioactive substances directly to the tumor, inside your body.
  • Biologic therapy uses your own immune system and body to destroy the cancer.

Where to learn more


Adrenocortical carcinoma is a rare but aggressive cancer caused by a tumor in the adrenal cortex. ACC triggers the excessive production of hormones like cortisol, aldosterone, estrogen, or testosterone.

Symptoms of ACC include excessive hair growth, enlarged sex organs, and obesity.

Sources include:


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