Key Points about Adenocarcinoma

  • Adenocarcinoma can develop in organs throughout the body.
  • Doctors use biopsy, imaging tests and physical exam to diagnose adenocarcinoma.
  • Treatment for adenocarcinoma may include surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.


Adenocarcinoma is a type of cancer that begins in the glandular (epithelial) cells that produce mucus. Many organs in your body have these types of cells, and adenocarcinoma can occur in any of these organs. Common types of adenocarcinomas include:

  • Bladder cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Prostate cancer

Adenocarcinoma causes

Adenocarcinoma occurs when glandular cells develop mutations (changes) in their DNA.

Adenocarcinoma risk factors

The following factors may increase your risk for developing adenocarcinoma:

  • Being a smoker or having a history of smoking
  • Being over age 50
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Drinking moderate or excessive amounts of alcohol
  • Eating a diet high in red meats and saturated fats
  • Having a personal or family history of cancer
  • Having certain inherited syndromes, such as Lynch syndrome or familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
  • Not getting regular physical exercise

Adenocarcinoma symptoms

Signs and symptoms of adenocarcinoma depend on where the cancer occurs and which organ it affects:

Breast cancer

  • A lump in the breast
  • Discharge from one nipple that is bloody and only comes from one breast
  • Nipple retraction, meaning that it’s pushed in rather than sticking out
  • Red or scaly breast skin or nipple
  • Skin of the breast that is dimpled or puckered
  • Swelling in the breast

Colorectal cancer

  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Blood in your stool
  • Diarrhea, constipation or other changes in your bowel habits
  • Gas or bloating
  • Iron deficiency anemia (IDA)
  • Stool that is more narrow or thin than usual
  • Unexplained weight loss

Lung cancer

  • Chest pain
  • Coughing up bloody sputum (spit)
  • Decreased appetite
  • Hoarseness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Wheezing

Pancreatic cancer

  • Abdominal pain
  • Back pain
  • Bloating
  • Clay-colored stool
  • Decreased appetite
  • Heartburn
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes)
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Unusual itchiness

Prostate cancer

  • A urine stream that is weak, or that starts and stops
  • Erectile dysfunction (ED)
  • Hematuria (blood in the urine)
  • Needing to urinate frequently – especially during the night

Adenocarcinoma diagnosis

Your oncologist may use one or more of the following tests to diagnose this condition:

  • Physical exam - your doctor will perform a complete physical exam, including asking questions about your health history, symptoms and related risk factors.
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan - this type of imaging test provides a 3-D image of the inside of the body that your doctor can use to determine if there is any cancer present.
  • Biopsy - in this test, your doctor removes a biopsy (small tissue sample) from the suspicious area. This sample is sent to the laboratory, where a specialist closely checks the biopsy for abnormalities.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - this type of imaging test uses high-powered magnets to create detailed images of the inside of your body. Your doctor can closely examine these images to look for any areas that could indicate cancer.

Adenocarcinoma treatments

Depending on your personal health history, the extent of your adenocarcinoma and other factors, your oncologist may recommend one or more of the following treatment options:

  • Surgery - in most cases, your doctor will recommend a surgical procedure to remove the cancerous area.
  • Radiation therapy - this treatment uses high-powered energy beams to destroy cancerous cells. You may need to undergo radiation therapy to destroy any cancerous cells that couldn’t be removed surgically or if the cancer has spread beyond the initial site.
  • Chemotherapy - if the cancer has spread beyond the initial site of the cancer, your doctor may recommend that you undergo chemotherapy. During this treatment, medication is used to destroy cancerous cells. Chemotherapy can be taken via an oral (by mouth) pill or intravenously (through a vein).

When should I seek care?

If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing an oncologist for more specialized treatment.

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