Adenocarcinoma starts in mucus-producing glandular cells of your body and happens when the cells in the glands that line your organs begin to grow out of control. It is a subtype of carcinoma, the most common form of cancer, and typically forms solid tumors.

Adenocarcinoma can form in many different organs or parts of the body, including the colon, breasts, prostate, pancreas, esophagus and lungs.

What Causes Adenocarcinoma?

The exact cause of adenocarcinoma is not fully understood, but a variety of risk factors are associated with this type of cancer and vary based on the part of the body where it develops. For example, some of the more common risk factors include:


  • Smoking tobacco products or being around second-hand smoke
  • Exposure to harmful toxins in the work and home environments
  • Previous radiation therapy, especially in the lungs


  • Sex, as women are more likely to get breast cancer than men
  • Age, as the risk is more significant in older adults
  • Family history and genetics


  • Age, as the risk increases significantly once a man reaches 50 years of age
  • Race and ethnicity, as prostate cancer is more common in African American men and Caribbean men with African heritage than in any other race
  • Geography, as prostate cancer is most common in North America, Australia, northern Europe and the Caribbean
  • Having a close relative with prostate cancer, which can double the risk of developing it


  • Smoking
  • Exposure to particular chemicals in metalwork and dry cleaning
  • Age, as the risk increases with advancing years
  • Gender, as more men than women develop pancreatic cancer


  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • A diet high in red or processed meats
  • Smoking
  • Regularly consuming too much alcohol
  • A history of irritable bowel disease (IBD)
  • Having type 2 diabetes

What Are the Symptoms of Adenocarcinoma?

The symptoms of adenocarcinoma will depend on the organ in which it develops. Additionally, because it is typically the early stage of cancer, there are often no symptoms or only vague symptoms until the cancer is more advanced.

Some of the common symptoms in each part of the body include:

  • Breast cancer – A lump in the breast
  • Lung cancer – Coughing up bloody sputum
  • Colorectal cancer – Blood in the stool or associated iron deficiency anemia (IDA)
  • Pancreatic cancer – Abdominal pain and associated weight loss
  • Prostate cancer – A urine stream in men that is weak or starts and stops

How Is Adenocarcinoma Diagnosed?

Your primary care doctor can review your medical history and perform a physical exam at the first signs of adenocarcinoma or cancer. Further tests can be done by a team of oncologists, such as the ones found at Tampa General Hospital’s Cancer Institute. Three frequently used tests include a biopsy, a CT scan and an MRI.

How Is Adenocarcinoma Treated?

Treatment will depend on many factors, including where adenocarcinoma grows in the body, whether there is a tumor, the tumor’s size and characteristics and whether there are metastases (the development of secondary malignant growths).

Typical treatment options involve: