Context: Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is a rare and heterogeneous malignancy with incompletely understood pathogenesis and poor prognosis. Patients present with hormone excess (e.g. virilization, Cushing's syndrome) or a local mass effect (median tumor size at diagnosis > 10 cm). This paper reviews current diagnostic and therapeutic strategies in ACC.
Evidence acquisition: Original articles and reviews were identified using a PubMed search strategy (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi) covering the time period up until November 2005. The following search terms were used in varying combinations: adrenal, adrenocortical, cancer, carcinoma, tumor, diagnosis, imaging, treatment, radiotherapy, mitotane, cytotoxic, surgery.
Evidence synthesis: Tumors typically appear inhomogeneous in both computerized tomography and magnetic resonance imaging with necroses and irregular borders and differ from benign adenomas by their low fat content. Hormonal analysis reveals evidence of steroid hormone secretion by the tumor in the majority of cases, even in seemingly hormonally inactive lesions. Histopathology is crucial for the diagnosis of malignancy and may also provide important prognostic information. In stages I-III open surgery by an expert surgeon aiming at an R0 resection is the treatment of choice. Local recurrence is frequent, particularly after violation of the tumor capsule. Surgery also plays a role in local tumor recurrence and metastatic disease. In patients not amenable to surgery, mitotane (alone or in combination with cytotoxic drugs) remains the treatment of choice. Monitoring of drug levels (therapeutic range 14-20 mg/liter) is mandatory for optimum results. In advanced disease, the most promising therapeutic options (etoposide, doxorubicin, cisplatin plus mitotane, and streptozotocin plus mitotane) are currently being compared in an international phase III trial (www.firm-act.org). Adjuvant treatment options after complete tumor removal (e.g. mitotane, radiotherapy) are urgently needed because postoperative disease-free survival at 5 yr is only around 30%, but options have still not been convincingly established. National registries, international cooperations, and trials provide important new structures for patients but also for researchers aiming at systematic and continuous progress in ACC. However, future advances in the management of ACC will mainly depend on a better understanding of the molecular pathogenesis facilitating the use of modern cancer treatments (e.g. tyrosine kinase inhibitors).