Adenocarcinoma Cancers

Adenocarcinoma is a type of cancer. It starts in the glands that line your organs. Adenocarcinoma cancers can affect several areas of your body, including your lungs, stomach, pancreas and colon. Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Survival rates vary depending on the location, stage and type of adenocarcinoma.


Adenocarcinoma, with possible cancer locations, like lungs, pancreas, stomach and colon
Adenocarcinoma cancers starts in the glands that line your organs and can affect several different areas of your body and organs.

What is adenocarcinoma?

Adenocarcinoma is a type of cancer that starts in the glands that line your organs. These glands secrete mucus and digestive juices. If your glandular epithelial cells begin to change or grow out of control, tumors can form.

Adenocarcinoma is the most common type of cancer involving your organs. It can affect several different areas of your body, most commonly the:

Can adenocarcinoma spread to other parts of my body?

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, lymph nodes, bone and/or bone marrow.

When adenocarcinoma spreads, providers refer to it in one of two ways:

  1. Invasive adenocarcinoma, when cancer cells spread to surrounding tissues and nearby lymph nodes.
  2. Metastatic adenocarcinoma, when cancer cells break away from the original tumor and travel to distant parts of your body via your bloodstream or lymphatic system.


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Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of adenocarcinoma?

Adenocarcinoma symptoms vary widely depending on which type you have. Some of the most common overlapping symptoms are:

  • Pain near the affected organ.
  • Blood in bodily fluids (like your pee, poop or saliva).
  • Changes in your appetite or weight.
  • Bloating.

Lung adenocarcinoma

The first symptom of adenocarcinoma of the lungs is usually a chronic cough. You may cough up saliva and mucus with small amounts of blood. Other symptoms may include:

Breast adenocarcinoma

Healthcare providers usually find adenocarcinoma of the breast on a mammogram in the early stages before most symptoms start. Other times, you may notice certain warning signs, including:

Colorectal adenocarcinoma

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

Pancreatic adenocarcinoma

Most people who have adenocarcinoma of the pancreas don’t have symptoms until the late stages. The first warning signs are usually stomach pain and unintentional weight loss. Other symptoms include:

Prostatic adenocarcinoma

Most of the time, there are no early symptoms of prostate adenocarcinoma. In the advanced stages, you may develop erectile dysfunction or notice that you pee more than usual.

Esophageal adenocarcinoma

Symptoms of esophageal adenocarcinoma may include:

Gastric (stomach) adenocarcinoma

Stomach adenocarcinoma symptoms may include:

  • Feeling full after eating small amounts of food.
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Nausea.
  • Indigestion.

What causes adenocarcinoma?

Adenocarcinoma happens when cells in the glands that line your organs divide uncontrollably and start to spread. Experts aren’t always sure why some people develop adenocarcinoma, but there are a few risk factors to consider:

  • Smoking or vaping: Tobacco use is the primary cause of adenocarcinoma and other types of cancer.
  • Family history: If you have a biological parent, sibling or grandparent with adenocarcinoma, you’re more likely to develop it.
  • Alcohol: How often you drink beverages containing alcohol may contribute to adenocarcinoma, especially if you have a family history of the condition.
  • Toxin exposure: Harmful toxins in your home or work environment can also cause adenocarcinoma.
  • A body mass index (BMI) greater than 25 (having overweight/obesity): Carrying extra weight may be a risk factor for certain types of cancer, including adenocarcinoma.
  • Previous radiation therapy: If you’ve had radiation therapy in the past, you have a higher risk of developing adenocarcinoma.


Diagnosis and Tests

How is adenocarcinoma diagnosed?

A healthcare provider will start with a physical exam. They’ll ask about your symptoms and run some tests. These tests may include:

  • Blood tests: Your blood can show signs of cancer, like high levels of certain enzymes or low red blood cell count.
  • CT scan: This 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 healthcare provider takes a small sample of tissue from the affected organ. They’ll send it to a pathologist who’ll check it for cancer cells. A biopsy can tell you whether your cancer is in one organ or if it has spread and how much it has grown.

How do doctors determine cancer grade?

Healthcare providers look at cell differentiation to determine what grade of adenocarcinoma you have. Differentiation relates to how abnormal your cancer cells look under a microscope:

  • Well-differentiated adenocarcinoma: Low-grade cancer that tends to grow and spread slowly.
  • Moderately differentiated adenocarcinoma: Intermediate-grade cancer that grows faster than well-differentiated cells.
  • Poorly differentiated adenocarcinoma: High-grade cancer that spreads faster than moderately differentiated cells.

Adenocarcinoma stages

Once you receive a diagnosis, your healthcare provider will stage the cancer. How they stage it can differ depending on the location. But here are some general guidelines:

  • Stage 0 adenocarcinoma: The cancer hasn’t spread beyond where it started. This is adenocarcinoma in situ (meaning “in the original place”).
  • Stage I (1) adenocarcinoma: Cancer cells have spread into some surrounding tissue but haven’t spread to lymph nodes or other organs.
  • Stage II (2) adenocarcinoma: The cancer has spread deeper into surrounding tissue and possibly to nearby lymph nodes. It hasn’t spread to other organs.
  • Stage III (3) adenocarcinoma: Cancer cells have spread into deeper layers of tissue, nearby lymph nodes and possibly into distant lymph nodes. The tumor may grow larger at this stage.
  • Stage IV (4) adenocarcinoma: The cancer has traveled from the original location to other, distant parts of your body. This is metastatic adenocarcinoma.

Management and Treatment

How is adenocarcinoma treated?

Treatment depends on the location, size and type of tumor. It also depends on whether the cancer has spread to other parts of your body. There are three main adenocarcinoma treatments:

  1. Surgery. This is usually the first line of treatment for adenocarcinoma. The goal of surgery is to remove cancer and some of the surrounding tissue.
  2. Chemotherapy. This treatment involves using drugs to kill cancer cells. Your healthcare provider may recommend chemotherapy in a specific area or throughout your entire body.
  3. Radiation therapy. This uses imaging to target adenocarcinoma tumors and leave healthy tissues intact. Providers often use radiation therapy in combination with surgery and/or chemotherapy.

Side effects of adenocarcinoma surgery

Some of the general side effects after adenocarcinoma surgery 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.



Can adenocarcinoma be prevented?

Even though you can’t prevent adenocarcinoma altogether, there are some things you can do to lower your risk:

  • Avoid tobacco products.
  • Increase physical activity.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet.
  • Maintain a weight that’s healthy for you.
  • Visit your healthcare provider regularly.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have adenocarcinoma?

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

Treatment can successfully manage adenocarcinoma in many cases. Survival rates vary depending on the type of cancer, its location and stage.

Adenocarcinoma survival rate

Survival rates depend on the specific type of adenocarcinoma, its stage and its location. Keep in mind that medical professionals estimate survival rates according to other people’s outcomes. They can’t predict what will happen in your specific case, but they can give you a better understanding of your situation.

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 their diagnosis. The following statistics are based on U.S. research:

Type of Adenocarcinoma
Five-year survival rate
Five-year survival rate
Five-year survival rate
Five-year survival rate
Five-year survival rate
Gastric (stomach)
Five-year survival rate
Five-year survival rate

Living With

How can I take care of myself?

Going through adenocarcinoma 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:

  • Get lots of rest.
  • Eat a well-balanced, nourishing diet.
  • Take walks outside.
  • Schedule a massage.
  • 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.

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 doctor?

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 adenocarcinoma diagnosis:

  • What type of adenocarcinoma 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 during treatment?
  • What’s the goal of my treatment?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Adenocarcinoma is a life-changing diagnosis. Where do you go from here? How is it going to affect your world? Remember, it’s OK to feel how you feel, and it’s normal to have complicated emotions. Your healthcare team is here to help. They can give you resources and recommend support groups to help you cope. Learning everything you can about your diagnosis can help prepare you for possible treatment options and empower you to take control of your healthcare.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 06/25/2024.

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