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Although commonly associated with lung cancer, adenocarcinoma is a type of cancer that develops in cells lining glandular types of internal organs, such as the lungs, breasts, colon, prostate, stomach, pancreas, and cervix. Another type of adenocarcinoma, mucinous adenocarcinoma, accounts for only 10-15% of all adenocarcinomas and is particular to aggressive carcinomas that are comprised of at least sixty percent mucus.

Adenocarcinoma Appearance

Lung Adenocarcinoma
Adenocarcinoma Picture

Adenocarcinoma grossly present with the "three P's" - peripheral, pigmented and puckered.Commonly lesions are found near the pleural surface (peripheral) which is retracted (puckered) over the neoplasm.The cut surface is often white to pale gray with black anthracotic pigment and glistens if mucin is present. Desmoplastic reactions are often associated with adenocarcinomas and give the tumor a firm fibrous consistency. Adenocarcinomas tend to be well circumscribed and contain central necrotic cores.Less commonly they from cavitary lesions.

Adenocarcinoma are also associated with subpleural scars due to a variety of causes, including old infarcts, healed pneumonitis or granulomas, or trauma.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines adenocarcinoma as "a malignant epithelial tumor with tubular, acinar, or papillary growth patterns, and/or mucus production by the tumor cells."Currently the WHO recognizes four categories of adenocarcinoma:

  • acinar
  • papillary
  • bronchioloalveolar
  • solid carcinoma with mucus formation

However, others have suggested different groupings.

Mucin production is demonstrated by staining with either mucicarmine, periodic acid-Schiffwith diastase (PASD) or Alcian blue.Demonstration of mucin is essential when differentiating the solid variant from a large cell carcinoma of the lung, which by definition stains negatively for mucin.

Adenocarcinomas are also subclassified based upon their degree of differentiation into well, moderate and poorly differentiated forms.This subclassification is based upon the degree of gland formation, regularity of gland architecture, cytologic features, presence of amount of solid areas, level of mitotic activity and the presence and amount of necrosis.Accurate grading also requires an adequate sample, small biopsies tend to be of little value, and initial grades are often changed with more thorough sampling.Histologic grading is not reliable in cases with metastatic disease or following chemotherapy or radiation treatment.Histologic grade tends to correlate poorly with survival data, however, poorly differentiated adenocarcinoma does have a poor prognosis and is rapidly fatal.

The acinar variant is the most common form and is defined by the WHO as having, "a predominance of glandular structures, i.e., acini and tubules with or without papillary or solid areas."The better differentiated tumors form orderly glands lined by tall columnar cells with a regular array of nuclei.

Papillary adenocarcinomas are recognized as having "a predominance of the papillary structures."Papillary architecture begins with the protrusion of cells into the gland lumen.Generally the more well differentiated papillary variants show a core of fibrous connective tissue which is covered by a single layer of uniform cuboidal to columnar cells.Stratification and loss of uniformity are associated with a loss of differentiation.

Bronchoalveolar carcinomas are defined as "an adenocarcinoma in which cylindrical tumor cells grow upon the walls of pre-existing alveoli."(A more thorough discussion of bronchioloalveolar carcinoma is present in the "Bronchioloalveolar carcinoma" section).

Solid carcinomas with mucus formation are recognized as, "poorly differentiated adenocarcinomas lacking acini, tubules and papillae but with mucin containing vacuoles within many tumor cells."Since the solid variant is poorly differentiated by definition, it may be difficult to perceive gland formation. Mucin stains are necessary to demonstrate mucin and differentiate the tumor from a large cell carcinoma.

Adenocarcinoma treatment

Adenocarcinoma treatment can include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and biological therapy. The doctor may use one method or a combination of methods, depending on the type and location of the cancer, whether the disease has spread, the patient's age and general health, and other factors. Because treatment for cancer can also damage healthy cells and tissues, it often causes side effects. Some patients may worry that the side effects of treatment are worse than the disease. However, patients and doctors generally discuss the treatment options, weighing the likely benefits of killing cancer cells and the risks of possible side effects. Doctors can suggest ways to reduce or eliminate problems that may occur during and after treatment.

Conventional adenocarcinoma treatments include the latest best practices for surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and immunotherapy. Innovative adenocarcinoma therapies include chemoembolization, hormone therapy, photodynamic therapy, stem cell transplantation and more.

Complementary and alternative adenocarcinoma treatments help strengthen your treatment, as well as manage the side effects of cancer. From nutritional support and mind-body medicine, to naturopathic therapies or spiritual support, our patients are free to explore a variety of nurturing alternative therapies. Explore the benefits of an entire range of cancer therapies, instead of focusing solely on conventional medicines, cancer treatments go above and beyond what other conventional treatments.

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