Adenocarcinoma is a type of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). It tends to develop around the outer edges of the lungs and grow more slowly than other types of lung cancer.

In the United States, lung cancer is the main cause of cancer-related death and the third most common cancer. It is more likely to affect Black males than white males.

This article will explain the condition, its symptoms, and the diagnosis process. It will also look at some different treatment options and the outlook.

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Lung cancer develops as a result of uncontrolled cell division in the lungs, leading to tumors.

A person with this condition may experience difficulty breathing, and the cancer may spread to other regions of the body.

There are two main types of lung cancer: NSCLC and small cell lung cancer.

About 80–85% of all lung cancers are NSCLC, of which about 40% are adenocarcinomas. Other types of NSCLC are squamous cell carcinoma and large cell carcinoma.

Doctors classify each NSCLC type based on where cancer starts to develop. Adenocarcinoma starts in the cells that line the small air sacs called alveoli.

There is continuing research into the causes of lung cancer. However, some acknowledged risk factors include the following:

  • smoking
  • exposure to secondhand smoke
  • exposure to carcinogens such as asbestos
  • radon
  • a personal or family history of lung cancer
  • radiation therapy

Learn about reducing lung cancer risk factors here.

Generally, lung cancer symptoms do not appear until the condition has advanced.

As it gets worse, a person may experience nonspecific symptoms such as a persistent cough or shortness of breath. Some other symptoms may include:

  • coughing up blood
  • unintended weight loss
  • fatigue, or extreme tiredness
  • chest pain

In addition, a person may develop swollen lymph nodes or have repeated pneumonia episodes.

However, such symptoms could relate to a number of other conditions. Therefore, a person with any of these symptoms should seek medical advice.

Understanding the causes of lung cancer may help a doctor decide whether or not a person should undergo a screening test to check for it.

The person may not have any symptoms, and the doctor may not suspect cancer but believe that the person is at high risk of developing it.

Screening can help detect early stage cancer and may lead to further diagnostic tests.

However, there may be some risks associated with screening tests, according to the National Cancer Institute. These may include:

  • false-negative results
  • false-positive results
  • radiation exposure

If a doctor suspects adenocarcinoma, they may conduct several additional tests to confirm the diagnosis. The table below outlines what these might entail:

TestWhat is involved?
Physical exam An examination of a person’s general health will include checking for any signs or symptoms of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual.
Health historyDetailing a person’s health history means taking note of any health habits, including smoking, past occupations, current illnesses, and treatments.
Laboratory testsA doctor may use medical procedures to test samples of blood, urine, or other substances. These tests may help diagnose disease and plan treatments for it.
BiopsyA biopsy involves testing a sample of tissue and analyzing it for signs of disease.
X-raysAn X-ray will reveal areas inside the body, showing gases as black and bones as white.

Staging is a way to show information about cancer, including how far it has spread, the size of the tumor, and the extent of the cancer.

Doctors use this information to plan treatments and find suitable clinical trials.

A doctor will diagnose a cancer’s stage, and this does not change. Instead, they will add any new information or changes to the original stage.


Although there are several staging systems, doctors most commonly use the TNM system, wherein the letters indicate the following:

  • T: tumor size and spread into nearby tissue
  • N: cancer spread to nearby lymph nodes
  • M: metastasis, wherein cancer has spread to other parts of the body

With the TNM system, doctors add numbers to the letters to provide more detailed information about the tumor.

Other staging systems

Although doctors use the TNM system to determine treatment, they may use a five-stage system to describe the stages to the person awaiting diagnosis and treatment.

It is less detailed than the TNM system, though it is based on the same information.

Another system of staging uses terms instead of letters or numbers. These terms include:

  • in situ
  • localized
  • regional
  • distant
  • unknown

Treatment for NSCLC generally depends on when and at which stage the doctor first diagnosed the condition.

Surgery may be a cure, though treatment plans depend on several factors, including the stage of the cancer, the person’s age, and their overall fitness level.

Treatment may include the following:

Treatment typeProcedure
Wedge resectionThis involves the surgical removal of the tumor and some surrounding tissue.
LobectomyThis involves the surgical removal of an entire section of lung.
PneumonectomyThis involves the surgical removal of one entire lung.
Sleeve resectionThis involves the surgical removal of part of the bronchus.
Radiation therapyThis involves using high energy X-rays to stop cancer cells from growing or to kill them. There are two types: external radiation and internal radiation.
ChemotherapyThis involves the use of certain drugs to stop cancer cells from dividing or to kill them.
Targeted therapyThis involves substances such as monoclonal antibodies, which can identify and attack specific cancer cells.
ImmunotherapyThis is a biological therapy that can boost the body’s immune system.
Laser therapy
This uses a laser beam to kill cancer cells.
Photodynamic therapyThis uses drugs and a laser to kill cancer cells.
CryosurgeryThis freezing technique can destroy abnormal tissue.

This involves the use of a heated instrument to destroy abnormal tissue.

New treatments currently under investigation in clinical trials include chemoprevention and radiosensitizers.

The overall 5-year survival rate for lung cancer is 18.6%. This means that only 18.6% of people with the condition will still be alive 5 years later.

Under 15% of people with NSCLC that has spread to other parts of the body will survive for longer than 5 years.

However, survival rates can depend on the stage of cancer at diagnosis. For example, the 5-year survival rate for someone who received a diagnosis when their condition was localized to the lungs may be in the range of 56%.

Declining death rate

Since the early 1990s, the death rate from cancer in the U.S. has shown an overall decline, according to the Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer.

In adults, the average cancer death rate showed an annual decrease of 1.8% per year among males and 1.4% among females from 2001 to 2017.

Among children ages 0–14 years, the annual death rate for cancer was 1.4% from 2016 to 2017, which was a decrease from previous years.

However, cancer continues to be a leading global cause of death, and experts expect new cases to reach almost 30 million and cancer-related deaths to reach at least 16 million by 2050. This is according to a report in the Global Cancer Observatory by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Adenocarcinoma lung cancer is a subtype of NSCLC. It is the most common type of lung cancer, accounting for around 40% of all cases. It develops in the cells that produce mucus for the lungs.

Doctors use diagnostic information to recommend a treatment plan, which may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or newer approaches, such as targeted therapy and immunotherapy.

The long-term outlook for adenocarcinoma will depend on many factors, including the stage at which a person receives their diagnosis.