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What is adenocarcinoma?

Adenocarcinoma is a type of cancer that forms in the glands in your body that secrete mucus. Adenocarcinoma can happen in many different organs or parts of the body, including your colon, breasts, prostate, pancreas, esophagus, or lungs. It’s the common type of some of these cancers. For example, 99% of all prostate cancers and 85% of all pancreatic cancers are adenocarcinomas. 

Adenocarcinoma happens when the cells in the glands that line your organs begin to grow out of control. These cells can harm healthy tissues in your body and begin to spread to other parts of your body. 

Adenocarcinoma of the lungs

Adenocarcinoma is the most common form of lung cancer. About 40 percent of all lung cancers are adenocarcinomas. Adenocarcinomas are associated with tobacco use, but they are also the most common form of cancer in people who have never smoked cigarettes before – especially in women who have never smoked.

Adenocarcinoma is a type of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). It usually begins in the outer edges of the lungs and the lining of the bronchi (airway passages into the lungs). It is different from other types of lung carcinomas, which are usually more centrally located in the lungs. 

Adenocarcinoma grows more slowly than other types of lung cancer and forms smaller masses, but it can also metastasize in its early stages. 

What are the symptoms of adenocarcinoma?

Symptoms of adenocarcinoma are similar to the symptoms of other forms of lung cancer. The most common symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • A cough that does not go away or gets worse
  • Coughing up blood or red phlegm
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain, which can be worsened by deep breathing, coughing, or laughing
  • Hoarseness when speaking
  • Recurring lung infections, like bronchitis or pneumonia
  • Wheezing without history of asthma 
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling tired or weak

While these symptoms are possible with adenocarcinoma, they are more likely to be caused by conditions other than cancer. However, if you have any symptoms of lung cancer, especially if you have risk factors for lung cancer (like smoking), make an appointment with your doctor.

How is adenocarcinoma diagnosed?

There are several methods doctors use to diagnose adenocarcinoma and other types of lung cancer. The diagnostic tests your doctor chooses will vary based on factors like your age, symptoms, or risk factors. 

Regular screening for lung cancer

Experts recommend that people who are ages 55 to 80 years old with a history of smoking get regularly screened for lung cancer with a low-dose CT scan. CT scans may be able to detect cancer in its earliest stages before it has spread. 

Diagnostic tests for lung cancer

If you have the symptoms of lung cancer, your doctor may order several imaging and lab tests. These tests may include: 

  • A chest x-ray, which could show masses in your lungs that may be caused by cancer
  • CT scans, which can show lung cancer and cancer that may have spread to other parts of the body
  • Testing your sputum (coughed-up mucus)
  • Examining your lungs with a lighted tube (bronchoscopy)
  • Biopsies, which involves taking a piece of tissue and testing it for cancerous cells

Tests to find out what stage your adenocarcinoma is in

If doctors determine that you have adenocarcinoma, they may try to find out how advanced it is and whether it’s spread beyond your lungs. This is called the “stage” of cancer. The stages of lung cancer range from 0 to IV, with the lower stages indicating cancer that is limited to the lung, and stage IV indicating the cancer has spread to other locations. Your treatment for adenocarcinoma may depend on your stage of cancer.

Tests to determine the stage of your cancer include:

  • Imaging tests such as CT scans, x-rays, MRI, PET
  • Bone scans to see if cancer has affected your bones

How is adenocarcinoma treated?

Once you’ve been diagnosed with adenocarcinoma, you and your doctor will choose a treatment plan depending on the stage of your lung cancer, your overall health, and your preferences and opinions. The most common treatments for lung cancer are surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. You may receive one type of treatment for your adenocarcinoma or a combination of several different types of lung cancer treatment. 

Let’s look at the different types of treatment options in more detail.


Surgery may be the right treatment for your adenocarcinoma. If you have surgery for lung cancer, your doctor will remove the cancerous tissue in your lung as well as some of the healthy tissue around it. 

There are three types of surgery commonly used to treat lung cancer. These include:

  • Segmentectomy or wedge resection (removing a small part of the lung)
  • Lobectomy (removing one or two lobes of the lung)
  • Pneumonectomy (removing one entire lung)

The surgery that’s right for you will depend upon the size of the tumor, where the tumor is located, the stage of your cancer, and your overall health.

Radiation therapy

This type of therapy is often given in combination with surgery or chemotherapy. Radiation therapy sends beams of radiation to kill cancerous cells, which can shrink your tumor. The two types of radiation therapy doctors use are called external radiation and internal radiation. Sometimes, both internal and external radiation therapies are used at the same time to treat adenocarcinoma. 


Chemotherapy treats adenocarcinoma with drugs that destroy cancer cells either at the site of the cancer or throughout the entire body. These drugs work by stopping cancer cells from growing and spreading. Chemotherapy is often given in combination with other forms of lung cancer treatments, like surgery or radiation. 

Other lung cancer treatments 

Some people with lung cancer may choose treatments other than surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. These may include treatments such as:

  • Laser therapy (also known as photodynamic therapy or PDT), in which doctors inject a photosensitizing chemical into the body and then aim a laser at the tumor to kill cancerous cells
  • Medications that stop the growth of tumors by blocking blood vessels that form in new tumors 

Discover your treatment options at Beaumont

If doctors think you may have lung cancer, you can trust Beaumont to meet your treatment needs. Doctors at Beaumont detect more early stage cancers than any other hospital in Michigan. We use the most advanced treatments and the latest technology to offer patients individually targeted care. Our Lung Cancer Multidisciplinary Clinic offers you a highly trained and experienced team of cancer specialists.