Adenocarcinoma Cancers

Adenocarcinoma is a type of cancer. It develops in the glands that line your organs. Common forms of adenocarcinoma include breast, stomach, prostate, lung, pancreatic and colorectal cancers.


human body showing Adenocarcinoma Cancer
Adenocarcinoma Cancer: Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, & What it Is

What is adenocarcinoma?

If you’ve been told that you have adenocarcinoma, it means that you have cancer in the glands that line your organs. This type of cancer can affect several different areas of your body, including the:

  • Breast.
  • Prostate.
  • Pancreas.
  • Esophagus.
  • Colon/rectum.
  • Stomach.
  • Lungs.

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How common are adenocarcinoma cancers?

Adenocarcinoma is the most common type of cancer affecting your organs. Adenocarcinoma is responsible for:

  • Almost all prostate cancers.
  • Most breast cancers.
  • About 96% of colorectal cancers.
  • Approximately 95% of pancreatic cancers.
  • Around 40% of non-small cell lung cancers.

How does adenocarcinoma affect my body?

Adenocarcinoma develops in cells located in the glands that line your organs (glandular epithelial cells). These cells secrete mucous, digestive juices or other liquids. If your glandular cells begin to change or grow out of control, tumors can form. Some tumors found in glandular cells are not cancerous. These are called adenomas. However, some tumors that form in the glandular cells are cancerous. These are called adenocarcinomas.

Even though adenocarcinomas begin growing in the glands that line your organs, they can eventually spread to other parts of your body. This may include your brain, liver, lungs, lymph nodes, bone and bone marrow.


What’s the difference between adenocarcinoma and carcinoma?

Carcinoma is the most common form of cancer. It starts in the epithelial tissue of your skin or internal organs. Adenocarcinoma is a subtype of carcinoma. It grows in the glands that line the insides of your organs.

Symptoms and Causes

What causes adenocarcinoma?

There are a few factors that contribute to the development of this disease. The most common adenocarcinoma causes include:

  • Smoking. Tobacco use is the primary cause of adenocarcinoma and other types of cancer.
  • Toxin exposure. Harmful toxins in your home or work environment can also cause adenocarcinoma.
  • Previous radiation therapy. If you’ve had radiation therapy in the past, you have a higher risk of developing adenocarcinoma.

What are some common adenocarcinoma symptoms?

Adenocarcinoma symptoms can vary depending on the area of your body that is affected.

Prostate cancer. Most of the time, men don’t have obvious symptoms early on. In the advanced stages, you may notice:

Breast cancer. This type of cancer is often found on a mammogram in the early stages before most symptoms start. Other times, you may notice certain warning signs, including:

  • A change in your breast’s shape or size.
  • Breast swelling.
  • Red or flaky skin.
  • Bloody fluid leaking from your nipple.
  • Dimpled or uneven skin.

Colorectal (colon) cancer. You may not notice any symptoms if the tumor hasn’t grown big enough. Even though colorectal cancer typically causes bleeding in your stool (poop), the amount may be too small to see. Here are some other symptoms to watch for:

Pancreatic cancer. Most people who have pancreatic cancer don’t have symptoms until the late stages. The first warning sign is usually stomach pain and weight loss. Other symptoms include:

Lung cancer. The first symptom is usually a chronic cough. You may cough up saliva and mucous with small amounts of blood. Other symptoms may include:

Esophageal cancer.

Stomach cancer.

  • Stomach pain.
  • Feeling full after eating small amounts of food.
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Bloating.
  • Nausea.
  • Heartburn or indigestion.

Can adenocarcinoma spread to other parts of my body?

Yes. Adenocarcinoma can spread to other parts of your body. This occurs when cancer cells break away from a tumor and travel throughout your body via your bloodstream or lymph system. This is called invasive adenocarcinoma. Where cancer spreads depends on where the abnormal cells started. For example, pancreatic cancer often spreads to the liver first. Breast cancer often spreads to the lymph nodes first. Adenocarcinoma can also spread to the lungs, brain, bone, bone marrow and other organs.

Diagnosis and Tests

How do I know if I have adenocarcinoma?

Your healthcare provider will run some diagnostic tests. They will choose specific tests based on the location of the cancer. These may include:

  • Blood tests. Your blood can show signs of cancer, such as high levels of certain enzymes. You may also have anemia from a bleeding tumor.
  • CT scan. This X-ray procedure takes detailed, three-dimensional images of the tissues inside your body. A CT scan helps your healthcare provider see if there’s anything abnormal going on.
  • MRI. This imaging test uses radio waves and magnets to capture images of your organs and tissues.
  • Biopsy. A biopsy is a small sample of tissue taken from the organ where your provider thinks you may have cancer. This tissue sample is sent to a pathologist who’ll look at it under a microscope to see if there are cancer cells. A biopsy can tell you if your cancer is just in one organ, if it has spread and how much it has grown.

What does differentiation mean?

You may notice the word “differentiation” on your pathology report. This refers to the grade of the cancer. In other words, it relates to how abnormal your cancer cells look under a microscope. Well-differentiated adenocarcinoma is considered low grade. This type of cancer tends to grow and spread slower. Poorly differentiated adenocarcinoma is considered high grade because it usually spreads faster.

Management and Treatment

How is adenocarcinoma treated?

The treatment recommended for you will depend on the location, size and type of tumor. It also depends on whether or not the cancer has spread to other parts of your body. There are three main treatments for adenocarcinoma:

  • Surgery. Usually the first line of treatment for adenocarcinoma, surgery is done to remove cancer and some of the surrounding tissue.
  • Chemotherapy. This treatment involves using drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be used in a specific area or throughout your entire body.
  • Radiation therapy. Often used in combination with chemotherapy or surgery, radiation therapy uses imaging to target adenocarcinoma tumors and leave healthy tissues intact.

Can adenocarcinoma be cured?

Yes. Adenocarcinoma can be successfully treated in many cases. Survival rates vary depending on the type of cancer, its location and stage.

What are the side effects of treatment?

Side effects of adenocarcinoma treatment vary from person to person. Even those who undergo the same treatment can experience different side effects. Some of the most common include:

Be sure to tell your healthcare provider if you experience any side effects. They can help you find ways to ease your symptoms and make you more comfortable.

How can I take care of myself during treatment?

Going through cancer treatment can leave you feeling helpless and frustrated. One way to regain a sense of control is to practice self-care. Here are some suggestions:

  • Eat a well-balanced, nourishing diet.
  • Take a walk outside.
  • Schedule a massage.
  • Get lots of rest.
  • Find time for activities that fulfill you.
  • Practice mindfulness or meditation.

If you want to exercise, be sure that you talk to your healthcare provider before incorporating anything new into your routine. This will ensure that you stay as healthy as possible during treatment.

How long does adenocarcinoma treatment usually take?

There is no rulebook for how long cancer treatment takes. Some people are given chemotherapy for three months while others may need it for a year or longer. Your healthcare provider will discuss your treatment timeline with you in detail so you know what to expect.


How can I reduce my risk for adenocarcinoma?

Even though you can’t prevent cancer altogether, there are some things you can do to significantly lower your risk. Making healthy lifestyle choices is the best way to prevent adenocarcinoma and other types of cancer:

  • Avoid tobacco products.
  • Be physically active.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet.
  • Visit your healthcare provider regularly.

Outlook / Prognosis

Is adenocarcinoma fatal?

Adenocarcinoma prognosis varies depending on the type, location and size of the tumor. Cancers that are difficult to diagnose in the early stages are likely to be more fatal than cancers that are detectable early on.

What is the adenocarcinoma survival rate?

Survival rates depend on the specific type of adenocarcinoma, its stage and location. Keep in mind that survival rates are estimates that are based on previous outcomes of other people. They can’t predict what will happen in your specific case, but they can give you a better understanding of treatment success.

A relative survival rate compares people with the same type and stage of cancer to the general population. It shows whether the disease shortens life. The five-year relative survival rate is a measure of how many people are still alive five years after receiving a diagnosis or after treatment begins. These percentages are based on research in the United States:

  • Prostate: More than 99% of people are alive five years later.
  • Breast: 90% of people are alive five years later.
  • Colorectal: 90% of people are alive five years later.
  • Pancreatic: 10% of people are alive five years later.
  • Lung: 56% of people are alive five years later.
  • Esophageal: 47% of people are alive five years later.
  • Stomach: 32% of people are alive five years later.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider?

You should visit your healthcare provider if symptoms last longer than two weeks. If symptoms interfere with your daily life, schedule an appointment immediately.

What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?

Talking with your healthcare provider can help you understand your situation and make informed decisions. Here are some questions you can ask to learn more about your diagnosis:

  • What type of cancer do I have?
  • Where is the cancer located?
  • Has it spread to other parts of my body?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • How long will my treatment last?
  • What are the possible risks and side effects?
  • Can I work while I undergo treatment?
  • What’s the goal of my treatment?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

If you’ve been diagnosed with adenocarcinoma, you may feel shocked, saddened or frustrated. Learning everything you can about your diagnosis can prepare you for possible treatment options and empower you to take control of your healthcare.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/30/2021.

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