Adrenocortical Carcinoma: A Review of Surgical Treatment

Joseph A. Di Como1, Christina W. Lee2, Sharon M. Weber2*

Department of Surgery, Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center, Johnstown PA, USA

Department of Surgery, University of Wisconsin, Madison WI, USA

Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is a rare and aggressive malignancy1-5. It is typically resistant to chemotherapy and radiation with limited therapeutic options beyond surgical resection1, 3, 6. There is no current therapeutic target for drug development and no targeted therapy has achieved meaningful outcomes7. First-line therapy for metastatic disease remains a combination regimen of etoposide, doxorubicin, and cisplatinum7. Mitotane, either as a monotherapy or in combination may benefit certain patients with advanced disease8. Differences in medical management9 and radiotherapy10, 11, have not been shown to impact survival. Surgery, even in the setting of locally recurrent or metastatic disease, remains the only potentially curative option.

Traditionally, open adrenalectomy (OA) has been regarded as the safest technique for patients with ACC. Despite the widespread adaptation of minimally invasive techniques in general surgical practice, the use of minimally invasive adrenalectomy (MIS) for ACC remains controversial due to the absence of long-term data on outcomes such as recurrence and incidence of peritoneal carcinomatosis, particularly if tumor rupture occurs during resection7. MIS has been recommended for preoperatively determined ACC less than or equal to 10 cm in size and OA for adrenal masses with either preoperative confirmation of malignancy, intraoperative evidence of local invasion or enlarged lymph nodes, and larger tumors > 10 cm 12. Surgical approach has not been associated with differences in overall survival (OS) or disease–free survival (DFS) in patients with ACC12, 13, but selection bias makes analysis of these outcomes difficult.

Survival rates for patients with ACC are poor and surgery is the only option for cure6. Cortisol-secreting tumors, metastases, failure to achieve an R0 resection, multi-visceral resection, perioperative blood transfusion and adjuvant therapy have been associated with worse prognosis in patients who have undergone surgical resection6. Lymph node metastasis is a predictor of poor outcome for patients with ACC, and those who undergo lymphadenectomy with resection have shown improved survival14. As expected, low stage tumors (AJCC T1 and T2) are independently associated with improved survival12.

The importance of achieving a margin-negative resection was reinforced in a large analysis of nearly 4,000 patients identified from the National Cancer Data Base, which revealed a clear improvement in survival among margin-negative patients2. ACC is most widely classified using the tumor, lymph node, and metastasis (TNM) classification proposed by the International Union Against Cancer (UICC) and the American Joint Commission on Cancer (AJCC)12. The European Network for the Study of Adrenal Tumors (ENSAT) may also be used for staging and the Weiss scoring system is often used to grade tumors based on histological factors. Higher WEISS scores have indicated a poorer prognosis and the need for multi-organ resection15.

Since its introduction in 1992, laparoscopic adrenalectomy has gained acceptance for the treatment of benign and/or functional adrenal masses16. However, the use of MIS for ACC is controversial and OA remains the procedure of choice13,17-20. OA is recommended for standard treatment according to guidelines of the Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons (SAGES)20 and has been associated with improved outcomes for locally advanced disease21. This is likely in part due to the fact that OA offers reliable and consistent access to complete en bloc resection, which remains consistent with curative intent surgery and abides with the principles of oncologic resection. The anecdotal advantages of MIS for ACC include decreased post-operative pain, shorter length of stay, quicker rehabilitation, and fewer complications19,21-22. Studies comparing MIS to OA have demonstrated similar short-term outcomes with no differences in overall and disease-free survival12-13. Additionally, no differences in R0 status, tumor recurrence, intraoperative tumor rupture or rates of microvascular or capsular invasion were identified in the largest retrospective study to date comparing surgical techniques12. This study further identified no difference in morbidity, grade of complications, or perioperative and surgical outcomes between MIS and OA12. Tumor size remains an important factor in determining surgical approach, as MIS is more likely to be utilized in patients with smaller tumors12,21. However, no association has been identified between margin status and tumor size based on surgical technique12. The success and safety of MIS may depend on stringent patient selection.

MIS has been correlated with earlier recurrence rates, increased risk of tumor spillage, positive resection margins23,24 and peritoneal carcinomatosis7. Some studies have reported that surgical approach does not significantly affect margin status11,13,22. The risk of peritoneal carcinomatosis has previously been attributed to violation of the tumor capsule during laparoscopic manipulation6,19,24-25 A recent retrospective study found higher rates of peritoneal dissemination in patients who had undergone laparoscopic resection for ACC compared to those who had undergone an open resection7. Conversely, other studies have reported no difference in tumor recurrence or risk of intraoperative tumor rupture between surgical approaches12. Conflicting evidence may be due to confounding factors and further investigation is needed to evaluate peritoneal carcinomatosis in patients who have undergone MIS.

Repeat resection can offer a potential cure even in the face of nodal involvement, distant metastasis and R1 resection6 however the subset of patients that benefit from repeat resection is still ill-defined26. Improved survival has been reported with surgery compared to medical management for recurrent ACC9. ACC most commonly recurs locoregionally but can often present with metastasis to the lung, liver and other distal sites26. In patients undergoing surgery for recurrence, preoperative factors such as age, stage and tumor size have not been shown to impact survival9, and neither resection status nor the extent of resection have been shown to be predictive for survival27. As is true for many tumors, longer disease-free interval (DFI)is associated with improved outcomes9,26-27. Independent predictors of poor survival in patients who have undergone surgery for recurrence include a short DFI (< 12-months), extrapulmonary distant metastasis and multifocal recurrence25. Long-term survival after repeat resection for recurrent ACC has been associated with solitary metastasis26-27, Ki67 less than 25%9, a disease-free interval greater than 12 months9,26-27, and locoregional or pulmonary recurrence26.

Although the optimal surgical strategy remains debatable, both surgical approaches have a role in the management of ACC. The decision as to the surgical approach for ACC is driven by factors including surgeon preference, clinical suspicion for malignancy and tumor size, which is likely the leading determinant of approach. A prospective, randomized controlled trial comparing OA to MIS would be ideal, but likely not feasible due to the rarity of ACC and the challenge in obtaining a pre-operative diagnosis. The deciding factor in the surgical approach for ACC must be driven by the ability to achieve a complete oncologic resection. Therefore, we recommend OA in patients with locally advanced disease and larger tumors. In patients undergoing curative-intent resection for ACC ?10 cm, MIS techniques offer comparable surgical and oncologic outcomes to open surgery, providing the principles of an oncologic resection are followed. In cases of recurrent ACC, surgery remains the only chance for cure.

  1. Ranvier GG, Inabnet WB. Surgical Management of Adrenocortical Carcinoma. Endocrinology and Metabolism Clinics of North America. 2015; 44(2): 435-452. doi:10.1016/j.ecl.2015.02.008
  2. Schteingart D. Adrenocortical Carcinoma in the United States: Treatment Utilization and Prognostic Factors. Yearbook of Endocrinology. 2009; 2009: 223-224. doi:10.1016/s0084-3741(09)79396-5
  3. Schteingart D. Adrenocortical Carcinoma in the United States: Treatment Utilization and Prognostic Factors. Yearbook of Endocrinology. 2009; 2009: 223-224. doi:10.1016/s0084-3741(09)79396-5
  4. Mir MC, Klink JC, Guillotreau J, et al. Comparative Outcomes of Laparoscopic and Open Adrenalectomy for Adrenocortical Carcinoma: Single, High-Volume Center Experience. Annals of Surgical Oncology. 2012; 20(5): 1456-1461. doi:10.1245/s10434-012-2760-1
  5. Cooper AB, Habra MA, Grubbs EG, et al. Does laparoscopic adrenalectomy jeopardize oncologic outcomes for patients with adrenocortical carcinoma. Surgical Endoscopy. 2013; 27(11): 4026-4032. doi:10.1007/s00464-013-3034-0
  6. Tran TB, Postlewait LM, Maithel SK, et al. Actual 10-year survivors following resection of adrenocortical carcinoma. Journal of Surgical Oncology. 2016; 114(8): 971-976. doi:10.1002/jso.24439
  7. Payabyab EC, Balasubramaniam S, Edgerly M, et al. Adrenocortical Cancer: A Molecularly Complex Disease Where Surgery Matters. Clinical Cancer Research. 2016; 22(20): 4989-5000. doi:10.1158/1078-0432.ccr-16-1570
  8. Megerle F, Herrmann W, Schloetelburg W, et al. “Mitotane Monotherapy in Patients With Advanced Adrenocortical Carcinoma.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2018; vol. 103, no. 4: 1686–1695. doi:10.1210/jc.2017-02591.
  9. Simon G, Pattou F, Mirallié E, et al. Surgery for recurrent adrenocortical carcinoma: A multicenter retrospective study. Surgery. 2017; 161(1): 249-256. doi:10.1016/j.surg.2016.08.058
  10. Luo Y, Chen SS, Zheng XG, et al. The efficacy of radiation therapy in adrenocortical carcinoma: A propensity score analysis of a population-based study. Medicine. 2017; 96(17): e6741.
  11. Srougi V, de Bessa J Jr, Tanno FY, et al. Adjuvant radiotherapy for the primary treatment of adrenocortical carcinoma: are we offering the best? International Brazilian Journal of Urology. Official Journal of the Brazilian Society of Urology. 2017; 43(5): 841–848.
  12. Lee CW, Salem AI, Schneider DF, et al. Minimally Invasive Resection of Adrenocortical Carcinoma: A Multi-Institutional Study of 201 Patients. Journal of Gastrointestinal Surgery: Official Journal of the Society for Surgery of the Alimentary Tract. 2017; 21(2): 352–362.
  13. Fosså A, Røsok BI, Kazaryan AM, et al. Laparoscopic versus open surgery in stage I–III adrenocortical carcinoma – a retrospective comparison of 32 patients. Acta Oncologica. 2013; 52(8): 1771-1777. doi:10.3109/0284186x.2013.765065
  14. Gerry JM, Tran TB, Postlewait LM, et al. Lymphadenectomy for Adrenocortical Carcinoma: Is There a Therapeutic Benefit? Annals of Surgical Oncology. 2016; 23(Suppl 5): 708.
  15. Vanbrugghe C, Lowery AJ, Golffier C, et al. Adrenocortical carcinoma surgery—surgical extent and approach. Langenbecks Archives of Surgery. 2016; 401(7): 991-997. doi:10.1007/s00423-016-1462-8
  16. Gagner M, Lacroix A, Prinz RA, et al. Early experience with laparoscopic approach for adrenalectomy. Surgery. 1993 Dec; 114(6): 1120-4; discussion 1124-5. PubMed PMID: 8256217.
  17. Donatini G, Caiazzo R, Do Cao C, et al. Long-Term Survival After Adrenalectomy for Stage I/II Adrenocortical Carcinoma (ACC): A Retrospective Comparative Cohort Study of Laparoscopic Versus Open Approach. Annals of Surgical Oncology. 2013; 21(1): 284-291. doi:10.1245/s10434-013-3164-6
  18. Lombardi CP, Raffaelli M, De Crea C, et al. Open versus endoscopic adrenalectomy in the treatment of localized (stage I/II) adrenocortical carcinoma: Results of a multiinstitutional Italian survey. Surgery. 2012; 152(6): 1158-1164. doi:10.1016/j.surg.2012.08.014
  19. Porpiglia F1, Fiori C, Daffara F, et al. Retrospective Evaluation of the Outcome of Open Versus Laparoscopic Adrenalectomy for Stage I and II Adrenocortical Cancer. European Urology. 2010; 57(5): 873-878. doi:10.1016/j.eururo.2010.01.036
  20. Brunt LM. SAGES Guidelines for minimally invasive treatment of adrenal pathology. Surgical Endoscopy. 2013; 27(11): 3957-3959. doi:10.1007/s00464-013-3168-0
  21. Maurice MJ, Bream MJ, Kim SP, et al. Surgical quality of minimally invasive adrenalectomy for adrenocortical carcinoma: A contemporary analysis using the National Cancer Database. BJU International. 2016; 119(3): 436-443. doi:10.1111/bju.13618
  22. Miller BS, Gauger PG, Hammer GD, et al. Resection of adrenocortical carcinoma is less complete and local recurrence occurs sooner and more often after laparoscopic adrenalectomy than after open adrenalectomy. Surgery. 2012; 152(6): 1150-1157. doi:10.1016/j.surg.2012.08.024
  23. Autorino R, Bove P, De Sio M, et al. Open Versus Laparoscopic Adrenalectomy for Adrenocortical Carcinoma: A Meta-analysis of Surgical and Oncological Outcomes. Annals of Surgical Oncology. 2015; 23(4): 1195-1202. doi:10.1245/s10434-015-4900-x
  24. Cobb WS, Kercher KW, Sing RF, et al. Laparoscopic adrenalectomy for malignancy. American journal of surgery. 2005; 189(4): 405-11.
  25. Carnaille B. Adrenocortical carcinoma: Which surgical approach. Langenbecks Archives of Surgery. 2011; 397(2): 195-199. doi:10.1007/s00423-011-0852-1
  26. Tran TB, Maithel SK, Pawlik TM, et al. Clinical Score Predicting Long-Term Survival after Repeat Resection for Recurrent Adrenocortical Carcinoma. Journal of the American College of Surgeons. 2016; 223(6): 794–803.
  27. Baur J, Büntemeyer TO, Megerle F, et al. Outcome after resection of Adrenocortical Carcinoma liver metastases: A retrospective study. BMC Cancer. 2017; 17(1). doi:10.1186/s12885-017-3506-z

Article Info

Article Notes

  • Published on: November 17, 2018


  • Carcinomatosis

  • Malignancy


Dr. Sharon Weber, MD
University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, H4/730 Clinical Science Center, Madison, WI 53792, USA; Telephone No: (608) 262-2025