What is adenocarcinoma?

Adenocarcinoma is a cancer that starts in the secretory (glandular) cells. In tissue that lines the internal organs and creates and releases substances in the body, such as mucus, digestive juices, or other fluids, glandular cells are found. Adenocarcinomas are the majority of cancers in the breast, pancreas, liver, prostate, and colon.

Most cancers in the following locations are adenocarcinomas:

  • Lung: Of all lung cancers, lung adenocarcinomas account for about 40 percent. They emerge in fresh, mucus-secreting cells that are undeveloped.
  • Breast: The majority of breast cancers are adenocarcinomas that form in the milk ducts or the milk producing glands.
  • Prostate: Adenocarcinoma of the prostate occurs in the prostate gland cells. Adenocarcinomas comprise the majority of prostate cancers.
  • Pancreas: Usually, pancreatic adenocarcinomas develop when exocrine cells in the pancreas ducts expand too rapidly. Adenocarcinomas comprise about 95 percent of exocrine cancers.
  • Colon: Adenocarcinomas are the bulk of colon cancers. In the glands that produce the mucus to line the colon and rectum, colon adenocarcinoma begins.

Adenocarcinoma may also occur in the brain, often as a result of cancer cells metastasizing or spreading from other areas of the body.


As adenocarcinoma can occur in many areas of the body, it is not characterized by any particular list of symptoms.


Adenocarcinoma in the lungs can lead to:

  • coughing
  • hoarseness
  • bloody mucus
  • weight loss
  • weakness
  • exhaustion


Adenocarcinoma in the breast shows as a lump or unusual growth.


In its early stages, prostate cancer does not cause any symptoms. At a later stage, an adenocarcinoma may lead to:

  • pain when urinating
  • issues with bladder control
  • more frequent urges to urinate at night
  • blood in the semen
  • painful ejaculation


Adenocarcinoma in the pancreas can cause:

  • unintended weight loss
  • pain in the back and stomach
  • oily, pale stools
  • itchy skin


If adenocarcinoma develops in the colon, the following symptoms might occur:

  • a sensation that the bowels are full
  • bloody stool
  • rectal bleeding
  • stomach pain
  • unexplained weight loss

Brain or skull

The following symptoms may develop if adenocarcinoma develops in the skull:

  • headaches
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • seizures
  • blurred vision
  • personality changes
  • unusual sensations in the legs or arms
  • changes in thinking

Causes and risk factors

For distinct purposes, adenocarcinomas grow. Researchers are yet to find out why certain individuals develop adenocarcinomas, but not others.

There are some strong correlations, however, between some of the risk factors. The following list highlights the risk factors, including adenocarcinomas, that cause cancers to develop.

A family history of cancer and past exposure to radiation therapy are risk factors prevalent for many of these cancers.


The main risk factors for lung adenocarcinoma are smoked tobacco products or second-hand smoke.

Other risk factors include:

  • exposure to harmful toxins in the work and home environments
  • previous radiation therapy, especially in the lungs


According to, the key risk factors for breast cancer include:

  • sex, as women are more likely to get breast cancer than men
  • age, as the risk is more significant in older adults
  • family history and genetics
  • taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT)


There are several confirmed risk factors for prostate cancers, including adenocarcinoma, such as:

  • age, as the risk increases significantly once a man reaches 50 years of age
  • race and ethnicity, as prostate cancer is more common in African American men and Caribbean men with African heritage than in any other race
  • geography, as prostate cancer is most common in North America, Australia, northern Europe, and the Caribbean.
  • having a close relative with prostate cancer, which can double the risk of developing it


Risk factors include:

  • smoking
  • overweight and obesity
  • exposure to particular chemicals in metalwork and dry cleaning
  • age, as the risk increases with advancing years
  • gender, as more men than women develop pancreatic cancer


There are several risk factors for cancers of the colon and rectum, including adenocarcinoma, that can promote their growth. These include:

  • overweight or obesity
  • a sedentary lifestyle
  • a diet high in red or processed meats
  • smoking tobacco
  • regularly consuming too much alcohol
  • a history of irritable bowel disease (IBD)
  • having type 2 diabetes


The risk of adenocarcinoma spreading to the brain is increased by certain factors. This involve exposure, typically during other procedures, to radiation.

The risk of brain cancer can also be raised by a family history of other cancer-related disorders, such as Li-Fraumeni Syndrome. However, from another location, adenocarcinoma most commonly spreads to the brain.

The risk of metastasis for people with lung adenocarcinoma was discussed in a 2018 study published in the Chinese Neurosurgical Journal. The study authors concluded that there is a substantially higher risk of adenocarcinoma affecting the brain in people under 60 years of age with lung cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes.

Normally, diagnosis starts with an examination. A doctor should take a person’s detailed medical history.

The doctor will ask questions about symptoms and any potential risk factors, such as whether other family members have or have had adenocarcinoma, such as smoking.

Several tests can assist a doctor in diagnosing adenocarcinoma. It may be necessary to carry out multiple tests.

Tests may include the following options.


During this procedure, a healthcare professional removes a small sample of tissue. They will then send this to a laboratory for testing.

The location of the adenocarcinoma and the amount of tissue required will shape the biopsy method. Some use a thin or wide needle to obtain a sample. Others, such as colonic adenocarcinomas, require a more invasive technique, such as an endoscopy.

In an endoscopy, a healthcare professional inserts a tube into the area that is showing symptoms. It is flexible, lighted, and has a camera attached. A doctor may collect a tissue sample during this procedure for further analysis.

A biopsy can indicate whether a tissue sample is cancerous and if the cancer originated at the biopsied site or has metastasized from somewhere else in the body.

Read more about biopsies here.

Imaging scans

A doctor may use an X-ray to aid in diagnosis. In breast adenocarcinoma, for example, a doctor may use a mammogram. This is a specialized machine that provides an X-ray image of the breast.

A CT scan is an X-ray that provides 3D images of the body. Doctors sometimes use them to measure the change of a cancer over time and gauge whether treatment is working. They can also provide close detail on cancerous tissue.

MRI is another option. A doctor uses magnets and radio waves to create a detailed, cross-sectional image of various body parts, organs, and blood vessels. In some MRI scans, a doctor may inject a tracer or dye that may help to provide clearer images to aid in diagnosis.

Blood tests

These can calculate cancer-suggesting changes in blood cells. Specific chemicals in the blood can circulate in some adenocarcinomas and other cancers.

Changing prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels, for instance, can indicate prostate adenocarcinoma.


Adenocarcinoma care depends on the location of the cancer, the degree to which it has developed, and whether it has spread.

Doctors will also determine how healthy a person with cancer is because severe side effects can be caused by treatment.

Options for treatment can include the following:


It is common to remove a tumor surgically.

The removal of tumors is a better choice for some cancers than for others.

A lumpectomy, for instance, is the removal of breast cancer. Relatively clean, it is. It may, however, be life-threatening to surgically extract a tumor from the brain.

A surgeon could remove an entire organ or gland in people with an active adenocarcinoma that has a high risk of spreading.

Physicians can even qualify for radiofrequency ablation. This therapy uses beams of energy to destroy or shrink the tumor. To avoid spreading, a surgeon can also remove surrounding lymph nodes at the same time as the tumor.


Chemotherapy is a form of treatment in which a healthcare practitioner uses a needle or intravenous (IV) drip to inject cancer-killing medicine into a vein. Some individuals can take oral chemotherapy drugs.

This treatment kills cancer cells but can destroy some healthy cells as well. Many individuals who go through chemotherapy get sick, lose their hair, feel drained, or experience other negative effects.

As a result, during their treatment, individuals receiving chemotherapy may need to take other medications or stay in the hospital.

Targeted therapy

Some medicines target particular cancer cells and doctors may give this as an alternative or in addition to chemotherapy.

The availability of these drugs depends on the cancer type and the health of a person.


In order to target and kill cancer cells, radiation utilizes high energy waves.

Outside the body, external radiation delivers these waves from a computer. Internal radiation requires the implantation near the tumor of a needle, seed, or other device to release radiation over time.

Radiation can also kill healthy cells in the same way as chemotherapy and cause significant adverse effects.


In order to destroy cancer, immunotherapy uses drugs that help the immune system.

The majority of immunotherapy drugs just extend existence and do not cure cancer fully. They may have less side effects than either chemotherapy or radiation, but there may be moderate to serious side effects in some individuals.

The advantages of immunotherapy depend on the cancer, its level, and the health of the cancer patient.


One way for doctors to assess the development of cancers, including adenocarcinoma, is by cancer staging. Various physicians favor various systems of staging.

Stages 0–4

The 0-4 stage system is used by some physicians. Step 0 in this understanding of cancer suggests that abnormal cells exist, but they have not spread.

A higher stage suggests a larger tumor or that the cancer has spread into the tissue or lymph nodes surrounding it.

Stages 1–3 prove that the cancer has not spread to other areas of the body yet. Cancer in stage 4 has spread to other areas of the body.

TNM system

The TNM system involves using letters to describe tumor size, the number of lymph nodes affected, and metastasis.

T measures the primary tumor. TX indicates no measurable tumor and T0 means that doctors cannot find a tumor. T1–T4 denote the size of the tumor. Larger numbers refer to bigger tumors.

N measures the cancer’s effect on the lymph nodes near the tumor. NX indicates no measurable cancer in nearby lymph nodes. N0 means there is no cancer in the lymph nodes. N1–N3 indicate the number of affected lymph nodes. Higher numbers mean that the cancer has spread to more lymph nodes.

M measures the cancer’s spread to other regions. MX indicates no measurable metastasis, M0 indicates none at all, and M1 means that the cancer has spread.

Doctors will often use TNM to calculate the numbered stage of a cancer as Stage 0–­4.


Depending on where they have grown, adenocarcinomas can have very different prospects.

Some cancers tend to grow quicker than other cancers. Others also go undetected in the early stages, including prostate cancer, and doctors can not diagnose them until later.

These cancers are more likely to be fatal than cancers that are slow to develop or cause signs that are detectable.

Advanced cancers are more difficult for clinicians to handle, and they usually have a poorer outlook. This however, varies depending on the type of cancer a person has the therapies available, and the place where the cancer has spread.

Compared to a person who does not have cancer, a 5-year survival rate shows how likely it is that a person will survive for 5 years beyond a cancer diagnosis.

Depending on the form of adenocarcinoma, survival rates differ greatly. There could be a 5-year survival rate of about 85 percent for women with breast cancer that has spread locally but not to distant organs. A person with an equivalent stage adenocarcinoma in the lung would have a survival rate of about 33%.

Quality of treatment and other individual variables may influence prognosis.

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  • September 2nd, 2020

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