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What is an Adenocarcinoma of the Cervix?

By Amanda Dean
Updated Feb 25, 2024
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Adenocarcinoma of the cervix is a type of cancer that develops in mucous glands within the female reproductive system. Researchers have linked this cancer to the human papilloma virus (HPV) and the use of oral contraceptives. The odds of developing cervical cancer may be reduced by adhering to safe-sex practices or immunization against HPV. The prognosis for this cancer depends on how early the cancer is discovered and how aggressively it is treated.

Part of a class of cancers that occur in glands and glandular tissue throughout the body, adenocarcinoma of the cervix occurs when cancerous cells develop in the glands inside the cervix that produce mucus. This disease only makes up about 10% of cervical cancer incidences. Most cervical cancer cases are classified as squamous cell carcinomas. Although HPV is a common cause of both types of cervical cancer, adenocarcinoma of the cervix is often missed in pelvic examinations and Papanicolaou (Pap) smear or test analysis.

If an abnormality is detected, a diagnosis would be confirmed with a loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP). This procedure removes a piece of cervical tissue for analysis. If the LEEP does not confirm that cancer is present, Pap smears or tests at three-month intervals are recommended for further evaluation. If analysis of the LEEP does indicate the presence of cancerous or precancerous tissue, further testing will be conducted to determine the type and stage of cervical cancer.

This cancer progresses in a series of stages. Stage I of adenocarcinoma of the cervix occurs when the cancerous tissue is localized only to the cervix. Stage I lesions can range in size from microscopic to 0.28 inches (7 mm). When the cancer invades other structures in the pelvic area such as the vagina or uterus or grows beyond 0.28 inches (7 mm), it is considered to be Stage II.

Stage III adenocarcinoma of the cervix denotes a cancer that has spread largely throughout the pelvic region. It may fully block the uterine opening or invade the pelvic wall. When the cancer metathesizes to other organs outside the pelvic region, it is classified as stage IV and is often beyond treatment.

Adenocarcinoma of the cervix may evade detection during its earliest stages. Some women who have cervical cancer may experience pelvic pain, pain during intercourse or urination, or heavy vaginal discharge. Abnormalities in the menstrual cycle may also indicate adenocarcinoma of the cervix, but these abnormalities are common symptoms of several other gynecological disorders. Most women with stage I or II cervical cancer have no symptoms.

This type of cancer involves the same treatment procedure as squamous cell cancer. Radiation therapy is the standard means of destroying cancerous tissue in the cervix, and some lesions may be treated with chemotherapy. More progressed stages of the disease may require surgery to remove cancerous tissue. In extreme cases, a patient will undergo a radical hysterectomy, which removes most of the tissue in the female reproductive system. Treatment is more successful when the cancer is detected in the early stages and its effectiveness declines as the disease progresses.

Treatments also vary depending on the age and decisions made by the woman afflicted by adenocarcinoma of the cervix. Some women may chose a combination of radiation and chemotherapy over surgery if they want to preserve their ability to bear children or otherwise wish to avoid surgery. Consultation with a gynecological oncologist will help women to understand their individual options and prognosis.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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