Lung adenocarcinoma is a type of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). This cancer is the most common form of NSCLC, and it can occur in people who smoke and those who do not.

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Adenocarcinoma is a subtype of NSCLC that begins in mucus-producing cells. This form of NSCLC typically occurs in the outer areas of the lung. Lung adenocarcinoma can respond well to treatment when caught before it has spread to other body parts.

There are two main categories of lung cancer: small cell lung cancer and NSCLC. Roughly 80–85% of lung cancer cases are NSCLC.

This article will examine lung adenocarcinoma, the symptoms, causes, who is most at risk, diagnosis, stages, treatment options, outlook, and frequently asked questions.

Lung adenocarcinoma begins in glandular cells found in the outer regions of the lungs. These cells are responsible for producing substances such as digestive fluids and mucus.

The severity of lung adenocarcinoma depends on the cancer stage. In the early stages, cancer occurs in a localized area or has spread minimally. In the later stages, tumors may spread to the lymph nodes, bones, liver, or brain.

As lung adenocarcinoma grows more slowly than other types of lung cancer, many people receive a diagnosis in the early stages. An early diagnosis maximizes the chance of responding to treatment.

Cancerous cells in these regions proliferate and may form tumors. These tumors can metastasize or spread to other body parts in advanced cases.

In addition to the lungs, adenocarcinoma can occur in organs such as:

  • colon
  • pancreas
  • kidney
  • uterus
  • prostrate
  • rectum
  • uterus

Symptoms of lung adenocarcinoma vary according to the individual and the disease stage. Some common symptoms include the following:

  • pain or discomfort in the chest
  • breathing difficulties or wheezing
  • unexplained weight loss
  • chronic cough that does not resolve with time
  • blood in coughed-up mucus
  • tiredness
  • swallowing difficulties

If cancer has spread throughout the body, it can cause symptoms such as:

  • headache or dizziness
  • jaundice
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • bone pain or discomfort

Individuals experiencing these or other symptoms of lung cancer should visit a doctor. A medical professional can provide an analysis and recommend suitable treatment options.

People may develop this form of cancer for a variety of reasons. Genetic factors may play a role in lung adenocarcinoma, and individuals with a family history of lung cancer may have a greater chance of developing the condition.

Risk factors that may increase the risk of lung adenocarcinoma include:

  • smoking tobacco
  • exposure to secondhand smoke
  • exposure to hazardous substances such as asbestos

Smoking cigarettes carries the highest risk of lung cancer. Researchers estimate that between 80% and 90% of lung cancer deaths occur in people with a history of smoking.

Read more about lung cancer risk factors.

Individuals experiencing symptoms of lung adenocarcinoma should consult a medical professional for an evaluation. This may begin with a physical exam and a review of an individual’s medical history.

If a doctor suspects lung cancer, they can perform imaging tests to take a closer look at the lungs. These tests can include:

Imaging tests help identify potentially cancerous growths and determine whether tumors have spread.

To confirm a diagnosis, healthcare professionals must analyze lung cells in a laboratory. Tests used to confirm the diagnosis include:

Genetic mutations in lung adenocarcinoma can also help medical professionals find the right treatment.

New studies are finding additional genetic biomarkers associated with this cancer. In the future, these biomarkers may help in the diagnosis of lung adenocarcinoma and provide an accurate outlook.

Read more about the diagnosis of NSCLC.

Lung adenocarcinoma staging can help doctors keep track of disease progression. The stages for this and other forms of NSCLC include:

  • Stage 0: The cancer has not spread from the top area of the lung.
  • Stage 1: The cancer has grown but not reached the lymph nodes.
  • Stage 2: The tumors begin to spread to the lymph nodes.
  • Stage 3: The tumors have spread to lymph nodes in the chest or other local areas.
  • Stage 4: The cancer has spread to distant areas of the body.

Determining the lung adenocarcinoma stage is crucial for making informed treatment decisions. It is also essential for understanding disease outcomes.

Lung adenocarcinoma treatment depends on the individual and the disease stage. Common treatments may include:

Targeted therapy involves the use of drugs that target cancerous cells. For example, targeted therapy may include drugs that block the growth of new blood vessels. These drugs starve tumors of necessary blood supply, slowing tumor growth.

Each individual requires a specialized treatment plan tailored to their unique case. People living with lung adenocarcinoma should speak with a doctor to learn more about what treatments are right for them.

Learn more about the treatment options.

People who receive an early diagnosis of lung adenocarcinoma have a much higher chance of recovery. Researchers estimate a 64% 5-year survival rate for individuals with localized NSCLC.

However, most individuals with lung adenocarcinoma do not receive a diagnosis until the advanced stages. Research has shown that 60–70% of individuals are in stage 4 of the disease when they receive a diagnosis.

An advanced disease that has spread locally has an approximate 5-year survival rate of 30%. People with NSCLC that has spread to distant body parts have less than a 5% chance of survival after 5 years.

Find out more about the general outlook for people with NSCLC.

Below we review some frequently asked questions.

Who is affected more by lung adenocarcinoma?

The rates of lung adenocarcinoma in women have been increasing in recent years. Although the majority of lung cancer diagnoses still occur in men, this gap is narrowing. Lung cancer incidence is increasing in women but decreasing in men for unclear reasons.

What other cancers can lung adenocarcinoma cause?

Some people with lung cancer are more likely to develop other types of cancer. These may include cancer of the:

People who have had NSCLC are more likely to develop later cancers that affect the following organs:

Lung adenocarcinoma is the most common type of NSCLC. It begins in mucus-producing cells in the outer areas of the lung. People with a family history of lung cancer or certain risk factors may have a higher chance of developing this type of cancer.

In the early stages, lung adenocarcinoma may respond well to treatment. Treatment options such as surgery, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy can help slow tumor growth in some instances.

New research continues to shed light on lung adenocarcinoma, from what causes this disease to promising new treatment options.