graphic of lungs

A lung adenocarcinoma is a type of lung cancer that begins in the glandular cells of the lungs. These cells create and release fluids such as mucus. About 40 percent of all lung cancers are non-small cell adenocarcinomas.

The two other main types of lung cancer are squamous cell carcinoma and large cell carcinoma. The majority of cancers that begin in the breast, pancreas, and prostate also are adenocarcinomas.

Who’s at Risk?

While people who smoke have a higher risk of developing lung cancer, non-smokers can also develop this cancer.  Breathing highly polluted air can raise your risk of lung cancer. Chemicals found in diesel exhaust, coal products, gasoline, chloride, and formaldehyde may be dangerous too. 

Over a long period of time, radiation therapy of the lungs may raise your risk of lung cancer. Drinking water that contains arsenic is also a risk factor for non-small cell lung cancer. 

Women may be more at risk than men for this type of lung disease. Also, younger lung cancer patients are more likely to have non-small cell adenocarcinoma, compared with other forms of lung cancer.

How Does the Cancer Grow?

Non-small cell adenocarcinoma tends to form in the cells along the outer part of the lungs. In the pre-cancerous stage, cells undergo genetic changes that cause the abnormal cells to grow faster.

Further genetic alterations may lead to changes that help the cancer cells grow and form a mass or tumor. Cells that make up a lung cancer tumor can break off and spread to other parts of the body.

What Are the Symptoms?

Early on, a person with non-small cell lung cancer may not experience symptoms. Once symptoms appear, they usually include a cough that doesn’t go away. Taking a deep breath, coughing, or laughing can cause chest pain in people with lung cancer.

Other symptoms include:

  • shortness of breath
  • fatigue
  • wheezing
  • coughing up blood
  • phlegm that’s brownish or reddish in color

How Is the Cancer Diagnosed?

Obvious symptoms might suggest the presence of non-small cell adenocarcinoma. But the only way a doctor can definitively diagnose the cancer is by looking at lung tissue cells under a microscope. 

Examining the cells in sputum or phlegm can be helpful in diagnosing some forms of lung cancer, though that’s not the case with non-small cell lung cancers.

A needle biopsy, in which cells are withdrawn from a suspicious mass, is a more reliable method for doctors. Imaging tests, such as X-rays, are also used to diagnose lung cancer.

How Is the Cancer Staged?

The growth of cancer is described in stages: 

  • Stage 0: The cancer hasn’t spread beyond the inner lining of the lungs.
  • Stage 1: The cancer is still early-stage, and hasn’t spread to the lymph system.
  • Stage 2: The cancer has spread to some lymph nodes near the lungs.
  • Stage 3: The cancer has spread to other lymph nodes or tissue.
  • Stage 4: The lung cancer has spread to other organs.

How Is the Cancer Treated?

An effective treatment for non-small cell adenocarcinoma depends on the cancer’s stage. Surgery to remove all or only part of the lung is often required if the cancer hasn’t spread.

Surgery often provides the best chance of surviving this form of cancer. Of course, the operation is complex and carries risks. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be needed if the cancer has spread.

Outlook

The best way to prevent non-small cell adenocarcinoma is to never start smoking. However, even if you’ve been smoking for many years, it’s never too late to quit

Once you quit smoking, your risk of developing all types of lung cancer starts to diminish. Avoiding secondhand smoke is also recommended. Routine X-rays and other screenings aren’t recommended, unless you have symptoms.