Context: In surgical pathology practice adrenal cortical tumors are rare. However, in autopsy series adrenal cortical nodules are found frequently. These are now being identified more commonly in life when the abdomen is scanned for other disease. It is important to differentiate between benign and malignant lesions as adrenal cortical carcinoma is an aggressive tumor. Molecular genetic investigations are providing new information on both pathogenesis of adrenal tumors and basic adrenal development and physiology.
Objective: To provide an overview of current knowledge on adrenal cortical development and structure that informs our understanding of genetic diseases of the adrenal cortex and adrenal cortical tumors.
Data sources: Literature review using PubMed via the Endnote bibliography tool.
Conclusions: The understanding of basic developmental and physiologic processes permits a better understanding of diseases of the adrenal cortex. The information coming from investigation of the molecular pathology of adrenal cortical tumors is beginning to provide additional tests for the assessment of malignant potential in diagnosis but the mainstay remains traditional histologic analysis.