• Reality TV personality Anna “Chickadee” Cardwell died Sunday, according to an Instagram post shared by her mother, June Shannon.
  • Cardwell, 29, was diagnosed with stage 4 adrenal cancer in January 2023 after seeking care for stomachaches.
  • Adrenal cancers are very rare and aggressive—only about 200 cases are diagnosed each year; the average age of diagnosis is 46.

Reality TV personality Anna “Chickadee” Cardwell—who appeared on TLC’s “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo”—died Sunday, according to an Instagram post shared by her mother, June Shannon.

“With the breaking heart, we are announcing that @annamarie35 is no longer with us,” Shannon shared on Instagram. “She passed away in my home last night peacefully at 11:12 p.m.”

Cardwell, who was 29, was diagnosed with stage 4 adrenal carcinoma in January 2023 after seeking care for stomachaches.1 Further testing showed that the cancer had spread to her liver, kidney, and lung. She began chemotherapy in March—months later, in May, Cardwell shared on Instagram that she was on her third round of chemotherapy and that things were “looking good.”

However, it seems her condition quickly deteriorated. In an Instagram post shared two days before Cardwell’s death, Shannon shared a plea with her Instagram followers to keep her family in their thoughts.

Cardwell is survived by her two daughters, Kaitlyn and Kylee, as well as her mother and half-sisters Alanna “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson, Lauryn “Pumpkin” Efird, and Jessica “Chubbs” Shannon.

What Is Adrenal Cancer?

Adrenal cancers are very rare—though the exact numbers are unknown, it’s estimated that only about 200 cases are diagnosed each year.2

Though adrenal cancers (carcinomas) can occur in people of any age, the average age at diagnosis is about 46 years old.2

Adrenal cancer begins in the adrenal glands—small glands that sit above the kidneys.

“The adrenal [glands] are responsible for producing hormones that regulate various bodily functions, including metabolism, blood pressure, and stress response,” Kedar Kirtane, MD, an assistant member in the department of head and neck-endocrine oncology and medical director for Solid Tumor Cellular Therapy at Moffitt Cancer Center, told Health.

Tumors most often develop in the cortex of the adrenal gland—the two main types are adenomas (benign or non-cancerous tumors) and carcinomas (malignant or cancerous tumors). The specific type of cancer that develops in the cortex of the adrenal gland is called adrenal cortical carcinoma.3

What Causes Adrenal Cancer?

It’s currently unknown what causes adrenal cancer, which means it’s also not possible to prevent the disease. Certain lifestyle risk factors—like having obesity, being a smoker, or living a sedentary lifestyle—have been associated with an increased risk of other types of cancer, but data is lacking on their connection to adrenal cancer.4

However, “there are a few rare inherited cancer syndromes that would put you at increased risk of developing adrenal cancer,” said Melanie Goldfarb, MD, endocrine surgeon and director of the Center for Endocrine Tumors and Disorders at Saint John’s Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center.

Those rare genetic syndromes include Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN1), familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), and Lynch syndrome or hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC).

What Are the Symptoms of Adrenal Cancer?

Symptoms of adrenal cancer vary—some may be caused by hormones made by the tumor, while others may happen because the tumor has gotten so large that it presses on other organs.

“These tumors can get quite large—some are the size of a cantaloupe when they’re diagnosed,” Amanda M. Laird, MD, chief in the Section of Endocrine Surgery at the Rutgers Cancer Institute, told Health. “Because of their positioning, the tumors can get pretty big before people become symptomatic.”

When an adrenal cancer tumor grows too large, it may cause the following symptoms:

  • A lump in the abdomen
  • Abdominal or back pain
  • A full feeling in the abdomen

When an adrenal cancer tumor makes too much of a specific hormone—cortisol, aldosterone, testosterone, or estrogen—the symptoms depend on which hormone is affected, and whether it’s causing that hormone to increase in males or females.5

Symptoms of too much cortisol:

  • Weight gain in the face, neck, and trunk of body; thin arms and legs
  • Growth of fine hair on the face, upper back, or arms
  • A round, red, full face
  • A lump of fat on the back of the neck
  • A deepening of the voice; swelling of sex organs
  • Muscle weakness
  • High blood sugar
  • High blood pressure

Symptoms of too much aldosterone:

  • High blood pressure
  • Muscle weakness, cramps
  • Frequent urination
  • Feeling thirsty

Symptoms of too much testosterone in females:

  • Growth of fine hair on the face, upper back, or arms
  • Acne
  • Balding
  • A deepening of the voice
  • Lack of menstruation

Symptoms of too much estrogen in females:

  • Irregular periods
  • Vaginal bleeding after menopause
  • Weight gain

Symptoms of too much estrogen in males:

  • Growth of breast tissue
  • Lower sex drive
  • Impotence

How is Adrenal Cancer Diagnosed and Treated?

Adrenal cancer is most often found accidentally through imaging tests done for another reason, or due to hormone symptoms or symptoms due to the tumor growing too large.

As with most cancers, early detection is key for the most favorable outcomes. “Patients that do well are the ones that we diagnose incidentally—meaning someone had imaging scans for another reason, we found a mass on the adrenal gland, and we took it out,” said Goldfarb.

That early treatment can include surgically removing the tumor or the entire affected adrenal gland, according to Brian Lane, MD, PhD, director of urologic oncology at Corewell Health.

If, in later stages, there’s cancer left after surgery or the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, radiation or chemotherapy may be used, though it’s “often not very effective,” said Lane.

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