Adenocarcinoma – What It Is and What You Should Know in 2023

Adenocarcinoma is a term that might seem intimidating at first, and it certainly can be when one has to deal with it in a medical context. However, the first step to understanding and coping with such a diagnosis is knowledge.

an illustration of adenocarcinoma or germs around the lungs.

Here, we’re going to provide a comprehensive guide about adenocarcinoma, breaking down what it is, its types, its symptoms, its causes, how it is diagnosed, and treatment options.

What Is Adenocarcinoma?

Adenocarcinoma is a type of cancer that originates in the glandular cells. These cells are found in various body organs, lining the insides of our organs and producing substances such as mucus or digestive juices.

Adenocarcinoma is a type of cancer that originates in the glandular cells.

Since glandular cells are widespread throughout the body, adenocarcinoma can occur in different locations, including the lungs, breast, prostate, colon, and esophagus. However, the specific nature of the cancer and its treatment will largely depend on where it arises.

Types of Adenocarcinoma

Adenocarcinoma, a type of cancer originating in the glandular cells, can occur in various body parts. Below, we delve deeper into the most common types.

an illustration of a Types of Adenocarcinoma.

Lung Adenocarcinoma

Lung adenocarcinoma is the leading type of lung cancer and is particularly common among non-smokers and younger individuals. Originating in the cells that line the alveoli (small air sacs) in the lungs, this form of cancer often grows slowly and can take several years to spread beyond the lungs.

Early-stage lung adenocarcinoma may be asymptomatic or present mild symptoms like a persistent cough, chest pain, and shortness of breath. As the disease advances, symptoms such as weight loss, fatigue, and difficulty breathing may become more apparent.

Check out this comprehensive guide on the latest advancements in treatment for lung cancer, offering valuable insights to aid your journey towards recovery from lung cancer.

Colorectal Adenocarcinoma

Colorectal adenocarcinoma is the most common form of colorectal cancer. It originates from the cells that produce mucus to lubricate the inside of the colon and rectum. This lubrication is essential for helping the smooth passage of waste material.

The symptoms may include changes in bowel habits such as diarrhea or constipation, rectal bleeding or blood in the stool, persistent abdominal discomfort, and weakness or fatigue. Lifestyle factors like diet, obesity, smoking, and physical inactivity have been linked to colorectal cancer.

Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma

Pancreatic adenocarcinoma accounts for about 95% of pancreatic cancers. It begins in the pancreas’s exocrine cells, which produce enzymes to help digestion. This type of cancer is often difficult to diagnose early because the pancreas is deep inside the body, and early tumors can’t be seen or felt during routine physical exams.

Symptoms like jaundice, pain in the upper abdomen or back, weight loss, and digestive problems usually only appear in advanced stages of the disease. Both smoking and type 2 diabetes increase the risk of this type of cancer.

Esophageal Adenocarcinoma

Esophageal adenocarcinoma starts in the mucus-secreting glands in the lower part of the esophagus. It is often associated with a precancerous condition called Barrett’s esophagus, usually resulting from long-term gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Symptoms of this cancer may include difficulty swallowing, weight loss, chest pain, heartburn, and indigestion. Obesity and GERD are two prominent risk factors for this type of adenocarcinoma.

Prostate Adenocarcinoma

Prostate adenocarcinoma is the most common form of prostate cancer and originates in the cells of the prostate gland, a part of the male reproductive system that produces seminal fluid.

The condition may cause no signs or symptoms in its early stages. Advanced prostate cancer might cause trouble urinating, blood in the semen, discomfort in the pelvic area, bone pain, or erectile dysfunction. Risk factors include age, race, family history, and obesity.

Breast Adenocarcinoma

Breast adenocarcinoma, which makes up most breast cancers, originates in the milk ducts (ductal carcinoma) or the milk-producing glands (lobular carcinoma).

Early detection is key, and symptoms can include a breast lump or thickening, changes to the skin over the breast, changes in the size, shape, or appearance of a breast, or changes in the appearance of the nipple. Regular mammograms are a crucial tool for early detection.

Symptoms of Adenocarcinoma

Adenocarcinoma is a complex form of cancer, and its symptoms can vary greatly depending on the specific type and location of the disease. However, several common signs may indicate the presence of adenocarcinoma. Note that these symptoms can also indicate numerous other health conditions, so professional medical advice should always be sought if any of these symptoms are noticed.

an illustration of a Symptoms of Adenocarcinoma.

Unexplained Weight Loss

Unexplained weight loss, particularly if significant (more than 5% of body weight in six months to a year) and persistent, can be a key symptom of various types of adenocarcinoma, including colorectal, pancreatic, lung, and esophageal adenocarcinomas. The weight loss may be due to cancer cells consuming a significant portion of the body’s energy supply, or it could result from substances secreted by tumors that alter how the body metabolizes food.


Fatigue is an overwhelming sense of tiredness or lack of energy, which is not resolved by rest or sleep. This is a common symptom among cancer patients and can be an early symptom of adenocarcinoma, especially when associated with lung, colorectal, and breast adenocarcinoma cancers. Cancer-related fatigue can result from the body’s energy to fight the disease or the side effects of cancer treatment.

Pain in the Area of the Cancer

Pain associated with adenocarcinoma typically occurs when the cancer has grown and started to press on nearby nerves, organs, or bones. The type and intensity of pain can vary greatly depending on the location and stage of the cancer. For example, pancreatic adenocarcinoma may lead to severe abdominal or back pain, prostate adenocarcinoma might lead to pelvic pain, and lung adenocarcinoma can result in chest pain.

Changes in Bowel or Bladder Habits

Changes in bowel or bladder habits can be a significant symptom of certain types of adenocarcinoma. For instance, colorectal adenocarcinoma might lead to diarrhea, constipation, or changes in the consistency of stools. Prostate adenocarcinoma can cause symptoms such as frequent urination, especially at night, and blood in urine or semen. It’s essential to consult a doctor if you notice any persistent changes in your bowel or bladder function.

Remember, these symptoms can be associated with various health conditions, not just adenocarcinoma. It’s crucial to get regular check-ups and consult your healthcare provider if you have any concerns. Early detection of adenocarcinoma, like with all cancers, improves the chances of successful treatment.

Causes and Risk Factors

Adenocarcinomas, like all cancers, begin when cells in the body start to grow out of control. Various factors can increase the risk of developing adenocarcinoma, such as:

  • Age: Most types of adenocarcinomas are more common in older adults.
  • Lifestyle factors: Smoking, heavy alcohol use, and obesity can increase the risk of many types of adenocarcinoma.
  • Genetics: Certain inherited gene mutations can increase the risk.
  • Exposure to certain substances: For example, exposure to asbestos can increase the risk of lung adenocarcinoma.

Diagnosing Adenocarcinoma

Doctors usually start with a physical examination and medical history to diagnose adenocarcinoma. If adenocarcinoma is suspected, they may order further tests, such as:

Watch Video of Diagnosing Adenocarcinoma
  • Imaging tests like X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs to visualize the body’s internal structures.
  • Biopsy, where a small tissue sample is taken and examined under a microscope.
  • Blood tests can inform the body’s health and how well the organs function.

Treatment Options

The treatment for adenocarcinoma depends on its type, stage, and the patient’s overall health. Options may include:

  • Surgery: This is often the first line of treatment, especially if the cancer is localized.
  • Radiation therapy: High-energy radiation is used to kill cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy: Drugs are used to kill cancer cells throughout the body.
  • Targeted therapy: These drugs work by targeting specific characteristics of cancer cells.
  • Immunotherapy: This treatment stimulates the body’s immune system to fight cancer.

Final Thoughts

Understanding adenocarcinoma is essential to recognize its symptoms early and seek timely medical help. Remember, the more you know about this type of cancer, the better equipped you’ll be to discuss with your healthcare team if you or a loved one ever face it. Always consult a medical professional for advice and regular check-ups to ensure early detection and effective treatment.

Please note that this article is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult your healthcare provider if you have any concerns or questions about your health.

Frequently Asked Questions about Adenocarcinoma

Is adenocarcinoma cancer curable?

The curability of adenocarcinoma heavily depends on the type, location, stage at diagnosis, the patient’s overall health, and response to treatment. Early-stage adenocarcinomas have a higher chance of being cured compared to late-stage ones. Always consult with your healthcare provider for personalized advice.

Is adenocarcinoma cancer?

Yes, adenocarcinoma is a type of cancer that begins in the glandular cells, which are present in various organs throughout the body. It’s named after the adenomatous (glandular) cells in which it starts.

What is the cause of adenocarcinoma?

Like all cancers, adenocarcinoma starts when the body’s cells grow uncontrollably. Factors that can increase the risk of developing adenocarcinoma include age, lifestyle factors (such as smoking, alcohol use, and obesity), certain inherited gene mutations, and exposure to specific harmful substances.

What stage is adenocarcinoma?

Adenocarcinoma, like other cancers, is typically classified into four stages: I, II, III, and IV. Stage I is the earliest stage, where the cancer is small and hasn’t spread beyond its original location. Stage IV is the most advanced, indicating the cancer has spread (metastasized) to distant parts of the body. The stage of adenocarcinoma at diagnosis will depend on factors like the size of the tumor and how far it has spread.

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