There are eight major glands in the endocrine system. These organs produce substances needed to perform various bodily functions, and two critical ones sit right above the kidneys: the adrenals. The adrenal glands make steroid hormones, which are essentially chemical messengers for nearly all tissues and organs.

What is adrenal cancer, exactly, though? Adrenal cancer (also known as adrenocortical carcinoma or adrenocortical cancer) is a rare form of genitourinary cancer characterized by a malignant growth in one or both of the glands. It’s important to mention, though, that most adrenal cortex tumors are benign (non-cancerous adrenal adenomas).

Adrenocortical cancer is most frequently diagnosed in children younger than five and adults in their forties and fifties, though it can be detected at any age. The disease affects roughly 200 patients in the United States each year and accounts for under 12 cases per 1 million worldwide.

If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with this condition, you might be wondering about life expectancy. Immunity Therapy Center is dedicated to educating patients and their families about chronic illnesses so they can make informed decisions about treatment. Find statistics and insight into the adrenal gland cancer survival rate below.

What Is the Survival Rate for Adrenal Cancer?

The survival rate of a progressive illness tells you what percentage of patients live for a specified length of time following a diagnosis (typically five years). Statistics are usually based on the specific stage and type of the disease.

Bear in mind, though, that survival rates don’t determine how long an individual will live. Still, they can give you an idea of statistical outcomes and how the illness tends to affect lifespan. Read on for a breakdown of adrenal gland cancer survival rates for each stage.

Adrenal Cancer 5-Year Relative Survival Rate

Relative survival rates compare individuals diagnosed with the same type and stage of cancer to those without a cancer diagnosis. For instance, if the five-year relative survival rate is 90%, people with that specific disease are 90% as likely as people without it to live for at least five years (on average).

Adrenal Cancer Survival Rates by Stage

Adrenal cancer is typically categorized into four stages, stage 1 being the earliest before the tumor has spread, and stage four being the latest with distant metastatic tumor spread. According to a statistical analysis published in the AME Medical Journal, the five-year survival rate is as follows for each stage.

Stage 1: 82%

Stage 2: 61%

Stage 3: 50%

Stage 4: 13%

Devastatingly, adrenocortical carcinomas are often not detected in stages 1 or 2, as the disease can be symptomless until it spreads. Diagnoses occur at stage 3 or 4 in 70% of patients.

Localized, Regional, and Distant Survival Rates

The National Cancer Institute’s SEER (Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results) database tracks relative survival rates for different types of cancer. For adrenal cancer, the stages are categorized by where the malignant cells are detected: localized, regional, or distant metastases.

In the localized stage of adrenal cancer, the carcinoma is relatively small (typically under 2 inches), and the growth is confined to the gland. The regional stage means the cancer cells have spread to nearby lymph nodes or neighboring organs. In the distant stage, the cancer cells have spread past nearby sites and reached distant organs and tissues.

The average five-year relative survival rates for each stage are as follows.

Localized: 74%

Regional: 56%

Distant: 37%

For all stages combined, the SEER database calculates the adrenal gland cancer survival rate as 50%. One thing to note is that these stats only apply to the stage at the time of diagnosis and don’t account for whether the adrenal gland tumor has spread or returned after treatment.

Recurrence Rates for Adrenal Gland Cancer

Sadly, adrenocortical cancer can recur at any point, even after successful treatment. According to data published in the medical journal OncoTargets and Therapy, a recurrence is detected in 40% of patients within two years of surgically removing an adrenal tumor.

Following complete surgical resection (meaning the surgeon removes as much of the cancerous and benign adrenal mass as possible), 50% of people have a recurrence within five years.

Analyzing Recurrence Rates of Malignant Tumors

Recurrence rates depend on various prognostic factors, including the course of treatment—which is to say, not all patients opt for surgical removal. Surgical treatment focuses on isolated adrenal metastasis and may not be sufficient once the malignant tumor cells have spread to other parts of the body.

Here’s how the recurrence rates break down by stage among those who live five years past diagnosis.

Stage 1: 40% recurrence

Stage 2: 60% recurrence

Stage 3: 80% recurrence

Stage 4: 90% recurrence

Additionally, other cancers, including kidney cancer and liver cancer, can lead to adrenal gland metastases. This means cancer cells spread from other parts of the body to the adrenal glands. Complexities like this influence treatment options, the likelihood of recurrence, and prognosis.

Locoregional Recurrence of Adrenal Cancer

Locoregional recurrence is when cancer cells return at the same site of the original tumor or in the regional (nearby) lymph nodes, organs, and tissue. Among those who experience a recurrence of adrenal cancer, up to 60% are locoregional.

Adrenal Cancer Outcomes

Children generally have a better prognosis with adrenal cancer because the tumors are more likely to be caught early on. Adults, on the other hand, often don’t experience adrenal gland cancer symptoms until the carcinoma grows so large that it puts pressure on nearby organs or spreads to other sites (adrenal metastasis).

As we mentioned, statistics are based on averages, and they don’t take all factors into account. Adrenal gland cancer survival rates are determined by how far the growth has spread, yet things like patient age, treatment plan, and overall health can impact the outlook.

Further, as the American Cancer Society notes, the numbers are based on individuals who were diagnosed with adrenal cancer at least five years ago (and often longer). There are innovations in cancer treatment every year, and it’s possible those diagnosed now will have a better outlook than the stats indicate.

Alternative Treatments for Adrenal Cancer

Immunity Therapy Center understands that no two carcinomas behave the same and that each patient’s health needs are unique. That’s why we provide individualized cancer treatment plans and utilize a range of alternative therapies.

Adrenocortical tumor treatment often involves a combination of radiation therapy, chemotherapy, surgery, and medication to reduce the chance of recurrence. Though these approaches can be effective, they can wreak havoc on the immune system and come with myriad uncomfortable side effects.

The natural treatments offered at Immunity Therapy Center are designed to help patients maintain recovery while minimizing the side effects of traditional treatments. Contact us to learn more about alternative treatments for adrenal gland cancer.


Written By: Dr. Adolfo Carrillo

Dr. Adolfo Carrillo is a Board Certified Medical Doctor from Universidad Autónoma de Baja California.

Dr. Carrillo has been collaborating with Dr. Bautista for over 5 years as a treating physician at the Immunity the Immunity Therapy Center. Dr. Carrillo is a charismatic Doctor whose knowledge and commitment to patient care and bringing healing to patients is a valuable asset to our center.


External Sources: 

  1. National Cancer Institute. Endocrine Glands & Their Hormones.
  2. Science Direct. Steroid Hormones.
  3. American CAncer Society. What Is Adrenal Cancer?
  4. American Cancer Society. Survival Rates for Adrenal Cancer.
  5. National Cancer Institute. SEER Cancer Statistics Review (CSR) 1975-2017.
  6. Hallanger-Johnson, J., 2021. Systemic therapy for adrenocortical carcinoma: a review. Ama Medical Journal.
  7. Glover AR, Ip JC, Zhao JT, Soon PS, Robinson BG, Sidhu SB. Current management options for recurrent adrenocortical carcinoma. Onco Targets Ther. 2013;6:635-643. Published 2013 Jun 6.
  8. Glover AR, Ip JC, Zhao JT, Soon PS, Robinson BG, Sidhu SB. Current management options for recurrent adrenocortical carcinoma. Onco Targets Ther. 2013;6:635-643. Published 2013 Jun 6.
  9. Ayala-Ramirez M, Jasim S, Feng L, et al. Adrenocortical carcinoma: clinical outcomes and prognosis of 330 patients at a tertiary care center. Eur J Endocrinol. 2013;169(6):891-899. Published 2013 Oct 23.
  10. American Cancer Society. Signs and Symptoms of Adrenal Cancers.
  11. Ayala-Ramirez M, Jasim S, Feng L, et al. Adrenocortical carcinoma: clinical outcomes and prognosis of 330 patients at a tertiary care center. Eur J Endocrinol. 2013;169(6):891-899. Published 2013 Oct 23.
  12. Libé R. Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC): diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment. Front Cell Dev Biol. 2015;3:45. Published 2015 Jul 3.
  13. Carling Adrenal Center. Adrenal Cancer: An Overview of Adrenal Cancer.
  14. Zhang, Z., Wang, L., Chen, J. et al. Clinical analysis of adrenal lesions larger than 5 cm in diameter (an analysis of 251 cases). World J Surg Onc 17, 220 (2019).
  15. Hermsen IG, Gelderblom H, Kievit J, Romijn JA, Haak HR. Extremely long survival in six patients despite recurrent and metastatic adrenal carcinoma. Eur J Endocrinol. 2008;158(6):911-919.
August 9, 2021

Dr. Carlos Bautista is a Board Certified Medical Doctor. He received his Medical Degree from Universidad Autónoma de Baja California and has more than 20 years of experience working with Alternative Medicine to treat cancer, autoimmune diseases, chronic degenerative diseases, and infectious diseases. He opened Immunity Therapy Center in 2007 with the goal of providing the highest quality medical care for more than 5,000 patients.

At Immunity Therapy Center, our goal is to provide objective, updated, and research-based information on all health-related topics. This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles. All information has been fact-checked and reviewed by Dr. Carlos Bautista, a Board Certified Medical Doctor at Immunity Therapy Center. All information published on the site must undergo an extensive review process to ensure accuracy. This article contains trusted sources with all references hyperlinked for the reader's visibility.