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What is adenocarcinoma? 

Adenocarcinoma is a type of cancer that starts in mucus-producing (glandular) cells. Many organs have these types of cells and adenocarcinoma can develop in any of these organs. Adenocarcinomas occur most commonly in the:  

  • bowel – around 90% of bowel cancers are adenocarcinomas, which begin in the glandular tissue lining the bowel.  
  • breast – most breast cancers are adenocarcinomas. They begin in the milk producing glands in the breast.  
  • cervix – adenocarcinomas make up around 25% of cervical cancers and is more difficult to diagnose as it occurs higher up in the cervix and abnormal glandular cells are more difficult to find.  
  • kidney – about 90% of kidney cancers are adenocarcinomas (called renal cell carcinoma or renal cell adenocarcinoma). They start in the cells lining the tubes in the kidney’s nephrons (tiny parts of the kidney that filter blood and form urine).   
  • lung – about 85% of lung cancers are non-small cell lung cancers. (NSCL) Adenocarcinoma is the most common type of NSCL. It is most commonly found in the outer part of the lungs.   
  • oesophagus – adenocarcinomas are the most common oesophageal cancer in Australia. IT often begins near the oesophageal junction and is linked with Barrett’s Oesophagus (a condition with anormal changes in the cells that line the lower oesophagus). 
  • pancreas – more than 95% of pancreatic cancers are exocrine tumours. The most common type, adenocarcinoma, begins in the cells lining the pancreatic duct.  
  • prostate – almost all prostate cancers are adenocarcinomas and begin in the cells that line the prostate glands.  
  • stomach – most stomach cancers are adenocarcinomas and being in the glandular tissue found on the stomach’s inner surface.  

Less commonly, adenocarcinoma also accounts for types of analbladdervaginal and vulvar cancers.  

The symptoms of adenocarcinoma will depend on which organ is affected by cancer. You may not experience any symptoms until the cancer is more advanced.  

Adenocarcinomas are diagnosed like other cancer types and are usually detected by taking a biopsy (tissue sample) of the tumour.  

How your adenocarcinoma is treated will depend on the organ that has been affected, how far the cancer has spread and your overall health. For example, the majority of bowel cancers are adenocarcinomas and the most common treatments include surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy.  

For information and support contact Cancer Council 13 11 20

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