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Home > Living Well > Health Library > Childhood Adrenocortical Carcinoma Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Patient Information [NCI]
This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http://cancer.gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.
Adrenocortical carcinoma is a rare disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the outer layer of the adrenal gland.
There are two adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are small and shaped like a triangle. One adrenal gland sits on top of each kidney. Each adrenal gland has two parts. The outer layer of the adrenal gland is the adrenal cortex. The center of the adrenal gland is the adrenal medulla. Adrenocortical carcinoma is also called adrenocortical cancer or cancer of the adrenal cortex.Anatomy of the adrenal gland. There are two adrenal glands, one on top of each kidney. The outer part of each gland is the adrenal cortex and the inner part is the adrenal medulla.
The adrenal cortex makes important hormones that:
The adrenal medulla makes hormones that help the body react to stress. Cancer that forms in the adrenal medulla is called pheochromocytoma and is not discussed in this summary. See the PDQ summary on Childhood Pheochromocytoma and Paraganglioma Treatment for more information.
Most childhood adrenocortical tumors occur during the first 5 years of life, but they may also occur during adolescence.
Having a certain mutation (change) in the TP53 gene increases the risk of adrenocortical carcinoma.
Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your child's doctor if you think your child may be at risk.
The risk of adrenocortical carcinoma is increased by having a mutation (change) in the TP53gene or any of the following syndromes:
Signs and symptoms of adrenocortical carcinoma include a lump or pain in the abdomen.
These and other signs and symptoms may be caused by adrenocortical carcinoma or by other conditions.
Check with your child's doctor if your child has any of the following:
Also, cancer of the adrenal cortex may be functioning (makes more hormones than normal) or nonfunctioning (does not make extra hormones). Most tumors of the adrenal cortex in children are functioning tumors. The extra hormones made by functioning tumors may cause certain signs or symptoms of disease and these depend on the type of hormone made by the tumor. For example, extra androgen hormone may also cause male children to develop an enlarged penis and female children to develop enlarged genitalia. Extra estrogen hormone may cause the growth of breast tissue in male children. Extra cortisol hormone may cause Cushing syndrome (hypercortisolism).
See the PDQ summary on adult Adrenocortical Carcinoma Treatment (Adult) for more information on the signs and symptoms of adrenocortical carcinoma.
Tests that examine the adrenal glands are used to diagnose and stage adrenocortical carcinoma.
Tests are done to diagnose and stage cancer. After cancer is diagnosed, more tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread to nearby areas or to other parts of the body. This process is called staging. It is important to know whether cancer has spread in order to plan the best treatment.
The following tests and procedures may be used:
Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery).
The prognosis is good for patients who have small tumors that have been completely removed by surgery. For other patients, the prognosis depends on the following:
After adrenocortical carcinoma has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread to nearby areas or to other parts of the body.
The process used to find out if cancer has spread to tissues near the adrenal glands or to other parts of the body is called staging. The information gathered from the staging process is used to plan treatment. The results of the tests and procedures used to diagnose cancer are often also used to stage the disease.
Sometimes childhood adrenocortical carcinoma recurs (comes back) in the adrenal cortex or in other parts of the body after it has been treated.
There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.
Cancer can spread through tissue, the lymph system, and the blood:
Cancer may spread from where it began to other parts of the body.
When cancer spreads to another part of the body, it is called metastasis. Cancer cells break away from where they began (the primary tumor) and travel through the lymph system or blood.
The metastatic tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if adrenocortical carcinoma spreads to the liver, the cancer cells in the liver are actually adrenocortical carcinoma cells. The disease is metastatic adrenocortical carcinoma, not liver cancer.
There are different types of treatment for children with adrenocortical carcinoma.
Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment.
Because cancer in children is rare, taking part in a clinical trial should be considered. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.
Children with adrenocortical carcinoma should have their treatment planned by a team of doctors who are experts in treating childhood cancer.
Treatment will be overseen by a pediatric oncologist, a doctor who specializes in treating children with cancer. The pediatric oncologist works with other pediatric health professionals who are experts in treating children with cancer and who specialize in certain areas of medicine. This may include the following specialists and others:
Two types of standard treatment are used:
Surgery to remove the tumor is the main treatment for adrenocortical carcinoma.
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy).
New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.
This summary section describes treatments that are being studied in clinical trials. It may not mention every new treatment being studied. Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI website.
Immunotherapy is a treatment that uses the patient's immune system to fight cancer. Substances made by the body or made in a laboratory are used to boost, direct, or restore the body's natural defenses against cancer. This cancer treatment is a type of biologic therapy.
Immune checkpoint inhibitor. Checkpoint proteins, such as PD-L1 on tumor cells and PD-1 on T cells, help keep immune responses in check. The binding of PD-L1 to PD-1 keeps T cells from killing tumor cells in the body (left panel). Blocking the binding of PD-L1 to PD-1 with an immune checkpoint inhibitor (anti-PD-L1 or anti-PD-1) allows the T cells to kill tumor cells (right panel).
Targeted therapy is a type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific cancer cells. Targeted therapies usually cause less harm to normal cells than chemotherapy or radiation therapy do.
Targeted therapy is being studied for the treatment of childhood adrenocortical carcinoma that has recurred (come back).
Treatment for childhood adrenocortical carcinoma may cause side effects.
For information about side effects that begin during treatment for cancer, see our Side Effects page.
Side effects from cancer treatment that begin after treatment and continue for months or years are called late effects. Late effects of cancer treatment may include the following:
Some late effects may be treated or controlled. It is important to talk with your child's doctors about the possible late effects caused by some treatments. See the PDQ summary on Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Cancer for more information.
Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.
For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.
Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.
Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.
Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.
Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.
Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. Information about clinical trials supported by NCI can be found on NCI's clinical trials search webpage. Clinical trials supported by other organizations can be found on the ClinicalTrials.gov website.
Follow-up tests may be needed.
Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests.
Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your child's condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.
For information about the treatments listed below, see the Treatment Option Overview section.
Treatment of newly diagnosed adrenocortical carcinoma in children may include the following:
Use our clinical trial search to find NCI-supported cancer clinical trials that are accepting patients. You can search for trials based on the type of cancer, the age of the patient, and where the trials are being done. General information about clinical trials is also available.
Treatment of recurrent adrenocortical carcinoma in children may include the following:
For more information from the National Cancer Institute about adrenocortical carcinoma, see the following:
For more childhood cancer information and other general cancer resources, see the following:
Physician Data Query (PDQ) is the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) comprehensive cancer information database. The PDQ database contains summaries of the latest published information on cancer prevention, detection, genetics, treatment, supportive care, and complementary and alternative medicine. Most summaries come in two versions. The health professional versions have detailed information written in technical language. The patient versions are written in easy-to-understand, nontechnical language. Both versions have cancer information that is accurate and up to date and most versions are also available in Spanish.
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Purpose of This Summary
This PDQ cancer information summary has current information about the treatment of childhood adrenocortical carcinoma. It is meant to inform and help patients, families, and caregivers. It does not give formal guidelines or recommendations for making decisions about health care.
Reviewers and Updates
Editorial Boards write the PDQ cancer information summaries and keep them up to date. These Boards are made up of experts in cancer treatment and other specialties related to cancer. The summaries are reviewed regularly and changes are made when there is new information. The date on each summary ("Updated") is the date of the most recent change.
The information in this patient summary was taken from the health professional version, which is reviewed regularly and updated as needed, by the PDQ Pediatric Treatment Editorial Board.
Clinical Trial Information
A clinical trial is a study to answer a scientific question, such as whether one treatment is better than another. Trials are based on past studies and what has been learned in the laboratory. Each trial answers certain scientific questions in order to find new and better ways to help cancer patients. During treatment clinical trials, information is collected about the effects of a new treatment and how well it works. If a clinical trial shows that a new treatment is better than one currently being used, the new treatment may become "standard." Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.
Clinical trials can be found online at NCI's website. For more information, call the Cancer Information Service (CIS), NCI's contact center, at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).
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The best way to cite this PDQ summary is:
PDQ® Pediatric Treatment Editorial Board. PDQ Childhood Adrenocortical Carcinoma Treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Updated <MM/DD/YYYY>. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/adrenocortical/patient/child-adrenocortical-treatment-pdq. Accessed <MM/DD/YYYY>.
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Last Revised: 2021-09-24
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