Difference Between Adenoma and Carcinoma

Main Difference – Adenoma vs Carcinoma

Adenoma and Carcinoma are two terms which are often used in the field of Oncology, and they share several similar features, especially in the aspects of basic diagnostic methods and treatment types. The main difference between adenoma and carcinoma is that Adenomas develop in glands which secrete fluids such as sweat, saliva and breast milk whereas Carcinoma originates in the epithelial tissue.

This article explains,

1. What is Carcinoma? – Definition, Types, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Prognosis

2. What is Adenoma? – Definition, Types, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Prognosis

3. What is the difference between Adenoma and Carcinoma?Difference Between Adenoma and Carcinoma - infographic

What is a Carcinoma

Carcinoma is defined as an abnormal proliferation of cells which begin in the epithelial tissues, lining various internal structures and cavities in the body. This pathological condition develops when there is a disruption to the cell growth and balance inside the body.

Carcinomas are rare before the age of adolescence and genetic factors, radiation, UV rays exposure, chemicals like Benzene, smoking, tobacco, viruses, etc. are known to be some common causes for various cancers developing in the body.

There are 6 subcategories of Carcinomas:

Adreno-cortical carcinoma, affecting adrenal glands

Thyroid carcinoma, affecting the thyroid gland

Naso-pharyngeal carcinoma, affecting the nose and pharynx

Malignant melanoma which goes hands in hands with skin cancer

Skin carcinoma other than melanoma

Carcinomas which affect the salivary gland, colon, appendix, lung and bronchus, cervix, and urinary bladder.

Symptoms of carcinomas mainly depend on the location and severity. Lung carcinomas present with shortness of breath, chronic cough, bleeding with cough (Hemoptysis) or chest pain, colorectal carcinoma with rectal bleeding and altered bowel habits. In general, all the patients will complain of weakness, fatigue, unexplained fever, loss of weight and loss of appetite, night sweats, chills, etc.

This can be mainly diagnosed by a biopsy, where a sample of the suspected tissue is removed or drained and observed under the microscope so that abnormally divided cells could be noted. CT or MRI scan are used to identify the exact location of the carcinoma and its spread. The latest type known as positron emission tomography (PET) is now used widely to determine the type. Other tests may include blood tests (full blood count, liver function test) and Chest x-ray to exclude possible metastasis.

The treatment is mainly based on the type of cancer, its location, severity as well as the health and fitness of the patient. In fact, Chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, targeted cancer therapy and biological therapy can be used in cancer management.

Cancerous growths usually have a poor prognosis most of the time but it all depends on the factors mentioned above along with the stage at diagnosis. In fact, some cancers can be cured without much effort whereas some are fatal and could only be managed symptomatically with the help of palliative care.

Difference Between Adenoma and Carcinoma

Micrograph of small cell carcinoma of the lung

What is an Adenoma

Adenoma is defined as non-cancerous tumors, growing on various glands. These can grow on any gland in the body including ones in the colon, breasts, lungs, and throat. Some adenomas can rarely progress into cancers which will then be called as Adenocarcinomas.

Even though the exact etiology for Adenomas is not very clear, genetics and positive family history are known to be playing major roles whereas hormonal contraceptive pills, and some medication may also increase the risk of incidence.

Moreover, Adenomas can affect individuals at any age, and as far as the gender basis is concerned, women are more prone to develop ones in the glands of the liver.

Most patients will experience non-specific symptoms like generalized body aches, fatigue, weakness, loss of appetite and weight, etc. If anyone notices a lump along with these symptoms, it will be the high time to seek medical advice.

Some adenomas can gradually progress into cancerous growths, and therefore most oncologists suggest to remove lumps even if there is no suspected potential of an adenocarcinoma. In fact, growths in the superficial skin can often be removed during a simple, outpatient surgery whereas internal ones might need more complex surgeries done under general anesthesia.

Additionally, if the mass or lump is located in a hormone-secreting gland, hormonal balancing drugs can be used instead of invasive treatment procedures.

Main Difference - Adenoma vs Carcinoma

Intermediate micrograph of a colorectal tubular adenoma

Difference Between Adenoma and Carcinoma


Adenomas develop in glands which secrete fluids such as sweat, saliva and breast milk.

Carcinoma originates in the epithelial tissue (lining of breast, lung and Prostate gland).


Adenomas can affect people at any age of life.

Carcinomas will rarely affect children before adolescence.


Most Adenomas are associated with lumps bulging through the skin.

Carcinomas may or may not present as such, depending on the affected site, size and severity of the growth.

Image Courtesy:

“Tubular adenoma 2 intermed mag” By Nephron – Own work (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia

“Small cell lung cancer – cytology” By Nephron – Own work (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia 

About the Author: Embogama

Embogama is a passionate freelance writer for several years. Her areas of interest include general medicine, clinical medicine, health and fitness, Ayurveda medicine, psychology, counseling and piano music