Adrenal Cancer Stem Cell Research
Adrenal cancer: rare but deadlyAdrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is rare, but very deadly. This type of cancer develops in the outer layer, called the cortex, of the two small adrenal glands that sit on top of each kidney. About 600 new cases are diagnosed each year in the United States, or about one to two cases per million people.
The adrenal glands are part of the body's endocrine system. They make hormones that regulate the activity of other organs in the body. Among other things, these hormones help control blood pressure and how the body reacts to stress. Sex hormones produced by adrenal glands trigger physical changes in the body during puberty as boys and girls develop into men and women.
Adrenocortical cancer is most common in either the first or fifth decade of life. Because it produces symptoms in children, pediatric adrenal cancer is often diagnosed and treated at an early stage. Five-year survival rates in children are greater than 50%.
Adults rarely have obvious symptoms, so they often are not diagnosed until the cancer is large and has spread to other parts of the body. Although adrenal cancer can be treated in adults, it usually comes back. Once it recurs, it is almost always fatal.
U-M scientists in the Cancer Center's adrenal cancer program are studying primitive cells, called stem or progenitor cells, found in the outer cortex of the adrenal gland. They believe defects in these stem cells and the genes that regulate them could be the cause of adrenal cancer. Discovering what goes wrong early in the development of adrenal cancer is the vital first step toward finding better treatments and a cure for this fatal disease.