Adrenocortical carcinoma: a clinician's update

Nat Rev Endocrinol. 2011 Jun;7(6):323-35. doi: 10.1038/nrendo.2010.235. Epub 2011 Mar 8.


Adrenocortical carcinoma is a rare heterogeneous neoplasm with an incompletely understood pathogenesis and a poor prognosis. Previous studies have identified overexpression of insulin-like growth factor 2 (IGF-2) and constitutive activation of β-catenin as key factors involved in the development of adrenocortical carcinoma. Most patients present with steroid hormone excess, for example Cushing syndrome or virilization, or abdominal mass effects, but a growing proportion of patients with adrenocortical carcinoma (currently >15%) is initially diagnosed incidentally. No general consensus on the diagnostic and therapeutic measures for adrenocortical carcinoma exists, but collaborative efforts, such as international conferences and networks, including the European Network for the Study of Adrenal Tumors (ENSAT), have substantially advanced the field. In patients with suspected adrenocortical carcinoma, a thorough endocrine and imaging work-up is recommended to guide the surgical approach aimed at complete resection of the tumor. To establish an adequate basis for treatment decisions, pathology reports include the Weiss score to assess malignancy, the resection status and the Ki67 index. As recurrence is frequent, close follow-up initially every 3 months is mandatory. Most patients benefit from adjuvant mitotane treatment. In metastatic disease, mitotane is the cornerstone of initial treatment, and cytotoxic drugs should be added in case of progression. Results of a large phase III trial in advanced adrenocortical carcinoma are anticipated for 2011 and will hopefully establish a benchmark therapy. New targeted therapies, for example, IGF-1 receptor inhibitors, are under investigation and may soon improve current treatment options.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Adrenal Cortex Neoplasms / etiology
  • Adrenal Cortex Neoplasms / genetics
  • Adrenal Cortex Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Adrenocortical Carcinoma / diagnosis
  • Adrenocortical Carcinoma / etiology
  • Adrenocortical Carcinoma / genetics
  • Adrenocortical Carcinoma / therapy*
  • Algorithms
  • Clinical Laboratory Techniques / trends
  • Education, Medical, Continuing
  • Endocrinology / education
  • Endocrinology / trends
  • Genes, Tumor Suppressor / physiology
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Oncogenes / genetics
  • Oncogenes / physiology