Adrenal cancer care at Mayo Clinic

Adrenal cancer diagnosis at Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic doctors have extensive experience diagnosing adrenal cancer. Your appointment with a Mayo Clinic specialist may begin with a review of your medical history and a physical exam.

Additional tests and procedures used to diagnose adrenal cancer include:

  • Blood and urine tests. Laboratory tests of your blood and urine may reveal unusual levels of hormones produced by the adrenal glands, including cortisol, aldosterone and androgens.
  • Imaging tests. Your doctor may recommend CT, MRI or positron emission tomography (PET) scans to better understand any growths on your adrenal glands and to see if cancer has spread to other areas of your body, such as your lungs or your liver.
  • Laboratory analysis of your adrenal gland. If your doctor suspects you may have adrenal cancer, he or she will recommend removing your adrenal gland. The gland is analyzed in a laboratory by a doctor who studies body tissues (pathologist). This analysis can confirm whether you have cancer and exactly what types of cells are involved.

Adrenal cancer treatment at Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic doctors offer a full range of treatment options for people with adrenal cancer. Your care team will work with you to determine which options are best for your situation and will take into account your personal preferences.


The goal of surgery is to remove the entire adrenal cancer. To achieve this, doctors must remove the entire adrenal gland (adrenalectomy). There are several approaches to this surgery:

  • Making an incision in your back (posterior adrenalectomy). During this procedure, the surgeon makes an incision in your back, above your kidney, to access the adrenal glands and remove the cancer.
  • Making an incision in your abdomen (transabdominal adrenalectomy). When performing this procedure, the surgeon makes an incision in your abdomen in order to reach the adrenal gland and remove the cancer.
  • Making an incision in your chest (thoracoabdominal adrenalectomy). For very large adrenal tumors, surgeons may make a large incision in the chest in order to access the adrenal gland.

Medication to reduce the risk of recurrence

An older drug that has been used to treat advanced adrenal cancer has shown promise in delaying the recurrence of the disease after surgery. Mitotane (Lysodren) may be recommended after surgery for people with a high risk of cancer recurrence. Research into mitotane for this use is ongoing.


Chemotherapy is a drug treatment that uses chemicals to kill cancer cells. For adrenal cancers that can't be removed with surgery or that return after initial treatments, chemotherapy may be an option to slow the progression of the cancer.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-powered beams of energy, such as X-rays and protons, to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy is sometimes used after adrenal cancer surgery to kill any cells that might remain.