Adenocarcinoma is a type of cancer that starts in mucus-producing glandular cells of your body. Many organs have these glands, and adenocarcinoma can occur in any of these organs.
Common types include breast cancer, colorectal cancer, lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, and prostate cancer.
Symptoms of adenocarcinoma
The symptoms of any cancer depend on which organ it’s in. Often there are no symptoms or only vague symptoms until the cancer is advanced.
- Breast cancer.A lump in the breast.
- Colorectal cancer. Blood in the stool or associated iron deficiency anemia (IDA) (low numbers of red blood cells due to loss of iron).
- Lung cancer. Coughing up bloody sputum.
- Pancreatic cancer. Abdominal pain and associated weight loss.
- Prostate cancer. A urine stream in men that is weak or starts and stops.
Other cancer types can affect your organs, but adenocarcinoma is the most common. According to the American Cancer Society, adenocarcinoma accounts for:
Breast cancer is frequently found on a screening mammogram in its early stages before symptoms start. Sometimes it appears as a new lump that’s felt in a breast or armpit during a self-exam or by chance. The lump from breast cancer is usually hard and painless, but not always.
Other symptoms of breast cancer include:
- breast swelling
- change in breast shape or size
- dimpled or puckered skin on a breast
- nipple discharge that is bloody, only from one breast, or has a sudden onset
- nipple retraction, so it’s pushed in rather than sticking out
- red or scaly skin or nipple
There may be no symptoms if the cancer hasn’t grown big enough to cause problems or if it was found in its early stages during a screening test.
Colorectal cancers usually cause bleeding, leaving blood in the stool, but the amount may be too small to see. Eventually, there may be enough to be visible or so much is lost that IDA may develop. Visible blood may be bright red or maroon in color.
Other colorectal cancer symptoms include:
- abdominal pain or cramps
- diarrhea, constipation, or other change in bowel habits
- gas, bloating, or feeling full all the time
- stool that becomes narrower or thinner
- unexplained weight loss
The first symptom is usually a persistent cough with blood-tinged sputum. By the time symptoms appear, lung cancer is usually in advanced stages and has spread to other places in the body.
Additional symptoms of lung cancer include:
- chest pain
- difficulty breathing
- loss of appetite and weight loss
Pancreas cancer is another cancer that usually has no symptoms until it’s very advanced. Abdominal pain and weight loss are often the first symptoms. Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes) with itchiness and clay-colored stool can also be early symptoms.
Other symptoms of pancreatic cancer include:
- appetite loss
- back pain
- feeling bloated
- nausea and vomiting
- signs of excess fat in the stool (stool smells bad and floats)
Often men have no symptoms of prostate cancer. Symptoms that may occur in advanced stages include:
- bloody urine
- frequent urination, especially at night
- erectile dysfunction
- urine stream that is weak or stops and starts
Your doctor will ask for your medical history and perform a physical exam to help determine which tests to choose. Tests to diagnose cancer will vary depending on the location, but three frequently used tests include:
- Biopsy. A healthcare provider takes a sample of an abnormal mass and examines it under a microscope to determine if it’s cancerous. They also check if it started at that location or is metastasis.
- CT scan. This scan gives a 3-D image of the affected part of the body to evaluate abnormal masses that may indicate adenocarcinoma.
- MRI. This diagnostic test provides detailed images of the body’s organs and allows doctors to see masses or abnormal tissue.
Doctors will usually perform a biopsy to confirm a cancer diagnosis. Blood tests may not be as helpful for diagnosis, but may be useful for following treatment progress and looking for metastases.
Laparoscopy may also be used to help confirm a diagnosis. This procedure involves looking inside your body with a thin, lighted scope and camera.
Here are some screening tests and exams that help diagnose cancer in specific organs and parts of the body:
- Screening mammograms. Breast X-rays may be used to detect cancer.
- Ultrasound and magnified views on a mammogram. These scans produce images that help further characterize a mass and determine its exact location.
- Colonoscopy. A healthcare provider inserts a scope into your colon to screen for cancer, evaluate a mass, remove small growths, or perform a biopsy.
- Bronchoscopy. A healthcare provider inserts a scope through your mouth into your lungs to look for or evaluate a mass and perform a biopsy.
- Cytology. A healthcare provider examines cells from your phlegm or fluid around your lung under a microscope to see if there are cancer cells.
- Mediastinoscopy. A healthcare provider inserts a scope through the skin into the area between your lungs to biopsy lymph nodes, looking for local spread of cancer.
- Thoracentesis (pleural tap). A healthcare provider inserts a needle through the skin to remove a fluid collection around your lung, which is tested for cancer cells.
- ERCP. A healthcare provider inserts a scope through your mouth and passes it through your stomach and part of your small intestine to evaluate your pancreas or perform a biopsy.
- Endoscopic ultrasound. A healthcare provider inserts a scope through your mouth into your stomach to evaluate your pancreas with ultrasound or perform a biopsy.
- Paracentesis. A healthcare provider inserts a needle through the skin to remove a fluid collection in your abdomen and examine the cells within.
- Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. This test can detect high-than-average levels of PSA in the blood, which may be associated with prostate cancer. It can be used as a screening test or to follow the effectiveness of treatment.
- Transrectal ultrasound. A healthcare provider inserts a scope in the rectum to obtain a prostate biopsy.
Specific treatment is based on the type of tumor, its size and characteristics, and whether there are metastases or lymph node involvement.
Cancer localized to one body region is often treated with surgery and radiation. When cancer has metastasized, chemotherapy is more likely to be included in the treatment.
There are three main treatments for adenocarcinomas:
- surgery to remove the cancer and surrounding tissue
- chemotherapy using intravenous medications that destroy cancer cells all over the body
- radiation therapy that destroys cancer cells in one location
Outlook depends on many factors, including cancer stage, presence of metastases, and overall health. Survival statistics are only estimates based on average outcomes. Remember that an individual’s outcome may be different than the averages, especially with early stage disease.
The 5-year survival rate for a specific cancer indicates the percentage of survivors alive 5 years after diagnosis. According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), the 5-year survival rates for adenocarcinoma are:
Receiving a cancer diagnosis may be stressful and overwhelming. A good support system is important for people living with cancer and their family and friends.
information and support
Living with adenocarcinoma? Here are links to many types of support for you and your loved ones.
- online support communities for updating family and friends
- e-mail and phone helplines for answering questions or giving advice
- buddy programs for connecting you with a survivor of your type of cancer
- general cancer support groups for people with any type of cancer
- cancer-specific support groups classified by disease type
- general support groups for anyone seeking support
- counseling resources for learning about and finding a counselor
- organizations that fulfill wishes for people in advanced stages of the disease
Every adenocarcinoma begins in glandular cells lining a body organ. While there may be similarities among them, the specific symptoms, diagnostic tests, treatment, and outlook are different for each type.