By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Adenocarcinoma is a type of cancer that may affect various organs. It is derived from the word “adeno” meaning 'pertaining to a gland' and “carcinoma” meaning cancer.
What is cancer?
Every cell in the body has a tightly regulated system that dictates when it needs to grow, mature and eventually die off. Cancer occurs when cells lose this control and divide and proliferate indiscriminately.
What is adenocarcinoma?
Adenocarcinoma is a cancer originating in glandular tissue. The tissues affected are part of a larger tissue category known as epithelial. Epithelial tissues line skin, glands, cavities of organs etc. This epithelium comes from the ectoderm, endoderm and mesoderm in the fetus.
Adenocarcinoma cells do not necessarily need to be part of a gland but may possess secretory properties.
Which organs are affected with adenocarcinomas?
Adenocarcinoma can occur in some higher mammals, including humans. These cancers may appear as glands and possess secretion properties. They may not have definite glandular appearance in some cases. While each gland may not be secreting the same substance, any secretory property, glandular form and malignant appearance is named adenocarcinoma.
Since epithelium and glandular tissues are widely occurring in the body, adenocarcinoma can affect several organs. The leading cancer of the colon is adenocarcinoma, and adenocarcinomas are extremely common in the lungs. Other organs that may be affected by adenocarcinoma include:
- the cervix
What are not referred to as adenocarcinomas?
Some exocrine gland tumors, such as a VIPoma, an insulinoma, a pheochromocytoma, etc. are typically not referred to as adenocarcinomas. These are called neuroendocrine tumors.
If the glandular tissue is not malignant or cancerous, it is called adenoma. An adenoma typically does not invade other tissue and rarely metastasize. Malignant adenocarcinomas invade other tissues and often metastasize.
Diagnosing and treating adenocarcinomas
Adenocarcinomas are diagnosed like other cancers. They are usually detected by taking a biopsy of the tumor and examining it under the microscope. If such a tumor is discovered, it requires prompt treatment. This is essential because the cancer may spread to other organs as well.
Treatment includes surgical removal of the tumor to prevent its growth. After surgery, the patient may undergo chemotherapy and radiation to prevent the adenocarcinoma coming back.
Reviewed by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)
Last Updated: Aug 8, 2013