Adenocarcinoma is a type of cancer that forms in the glands, the cells that secrete substances within or out of the body.

Outlook, treatment, and survival rates for adenocarcinoma depend on the tumor’s location, size, stage, and individual factors, including a person’s overall health.


cancer cell.
The glands secrete various substances in the body. Adenocarcinoma is a cancer that forms in the glands and may spread to other areas of the body.

Adenocarcinomas begin in glands but can spread to other areas of the body. Glands secrete various fluids into tissues that line many organs of the body.

Adenocarcinomas account for the majority of cancers in the following areas:

  • breast
  • lung
  • prostate
  • pancreas
  • colon

A rare type of adenocarcinoma called adenoid cystic carcinoma begins in glands in the head, such as the sinus glands. It is a slow-growing cancer but can spread to the skull.

The brain can also develop adenocarcinoma.


As adenocarcinoma is a cancer that can occur in many areas of the body, no single diagnostic test or list of symptoms can confirm it.

Most people first seek care due to some unusual symptoms they have begun to experience. Below is a list of adenocarcinoma types and the symptoms that may signal their presence:

  • Brain or skull: Headaches, nausea, vomiting, seizures, blurred vision, personality changes, odd sensations in the legs or arms, or changes in thinking.
  • Lung: Coughing, hoarseness, bloody mucus, weight loss, weakness, and exhaustion.
  • Breast: A lump or other unusual growth in the breast.
  • Prostate: Painful urination, bladder control issues, more frequent urges to urinate at night, blood in semen, and painful ejaculation.
  • Pancreas: Unintended weight loss, back and stomach pain, oily or light-colored stools, and itchy skin.
  • Colon: A sensation that the bowels are full, bloody stool, rectal bleeding, stomach pain, and unexplained weight loss.


Prostate Gland Adenocarcinoma.
To accurately diagnose the adenocarcinoma, a biopsy or imaging scans may be performed.

Diagnosis usually begins with an exam that includes a doctor taking a comprehensive medical history of the individual. The doctor will ask questions about symptoms and risk factors, such as smoking.

A number of tests can diagnose adenocarcinoma. Multiple tests may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis.

Tests may include the following:


This procedure is the removal of a small sample of tissue to test it for cancerous cells. A biopsy can also provide information about where in the body a cancer originated. Some cancers are metastatic cancers or ones that have spread from one area to another.

Imaging scans

A computed tomography (CT) scan is an X-ray that provides three-dimensional images of a growth in the body. Doctors sometimes use them to measure change over time and to assess whether treatment is working.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is another option and uses radio waves to create an image of various parts of the body.

Blood tests

Blood work can measure changes in blood cells that suggest cancer. Chemicals in the blood may also be associated with specific cancers. For example, prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels change with prostate cancer.


Treatment for adenocarcinoma depends on the location of a cancer, how large it has grown, and whether it has spread. Doctors will also consider how healthy the person with cancer is since treatment can cause serious side effects.

Treatment options may include the following:

Removing the tumor

Surgical removal is a common choice. Tumor removal is a safer option with some cancers than others. For example, a lumpectomy is the removal of breast cancer and is a relatively safe procedure, while brain surgery to remove a tumor can be life-threatening.

Doctors may also opt for radiofrequency ablation, a treatment that uses energy waves to destroy or shrink the tumor. Surrounding lymph nodes may also be removed at the same time as the tumor.


Chemotherapy is a type of treatment that is usually delivered with a needle into a vein.

This treatment kills cancer cells but may also kill some healthy cells. Many people going through chemotherapy become sick, lose their hair or experience other symptoms. As a result, people undergoing chemotherapy may need to take other drugs or stay in the hospital during their treatment.

Targeted therapy

Some drugs are designed to target specific cancer cells, offering a less dangerous alternative to chemotherapy. The availability of these drugs depends on the type of cancer and an individual’s health.


Radiation uses high-energy waves to kill cancer cells. Similarly to chemotherapy, radiation can also kill healthy cells.


Immunotherapy uses medications that support the immune system to kill cancer. Most immunotherapy drugs only prolong life and do not fully cure cancer. As they support the immune system, however, they often produce fewer side effects than either chemotherapy or radiation.

The availability of immunotherapy depends on the type of cancer, its stage, and the overall health of the person with cancer.

Progression and outlook

Woman with cancer.
Medical professionals will often rely on cancer staging systems to inform what type of treatment is needed.

Cancer staging is one way to measure the progress of cancers, including adenocarcinoma. Different doctors prefer different staging systems.

Some doctors rely on a simple 0-4 stage system. In this understanding of cancer, stage 0 indicates that there are abnormal cells, but they have not spread.

Stages 1-3 represent the spread of cancer, with higher numbers indicating larger tumors that are spreading into surrounding tissue.

Stage 4 cancer is one that has spread to other parts of the body.

The most popular cancer staging system is known as TNM. The letters stand for tumor size, number of lymph nodes affected, and metastasis or the spread from the primary tumor to other parts of the body.

T measures the main tumor. TX indicates no measurable tumor and T0 indicates a tumor that cannot be found. T1-T4 denote the size of the tumor, with the larger numbers referring to larger sizes.

N measures the cancer’s affect on lymph nodes near the tumor. NX indicates no cancer can be measured in nearby lymph nodes, and N0 indicates no cancer in the lymph nodes. N1-N3 indicate the number of affected lymph nodes, with higher numbers indicating more affected lymph nodes.

M measures metastasis or the spread to other regions. MX means no metastasis that can be measured, with M0 indicating no metastasis. M1 indicates that the cancer has spread.

Some cancers tend to spread more quickly than others. Others often go undetected in the early stages, resulting in later diagnosis. Prostate cancer is one such cancer. These cancers are more likely to be fatal than cancers that grow slowly or are detected early.

More advanced stages of cancer are more difficult to treat, and more likely to be fatal. However, this rule varies with the type of cancer, the available treatments, and the location where the cancer has spread.

Survival rates vary significantly, depending on the type of adenocarcinoma. Women with stage 2 breast cancer, for instance, have a 5-year survival rate of around 93 percent. For stage 2 lung cancer, survival rates are around 30 percent.

The measure of cancer survival rates does not paint the full picture, however, since treatment quality and other individual factors can affect prognosis.