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Mesothelioma vs Adenocarcinoma

While adenocarcinoma and mesothelioma often appear in the lungs, they are two distinct types of cancers. Some mesothelioma and adenocarcinoma symptoms overlap. However, these cancer cells have unique causes and characteristics. Learn why getting a second opinion is important if you believe you have mesothelioma or adenocarcinoma.

Medically reviewed by: Amy Fair, RN

Last updated:

Difference Between Mesothelioma and Adenocarcinoma

A doctor reviews a chest X-ray with a patient

Mesothelioma and adenocarcinoma are both forms of cancer commonly developing in the lungs but are significantly different diseases. They each have different causes and prognoses, requiring vastly different treatment approaches.

Caused by exposure to asbestos, mesothelioma is a rare cancer that forms in sensitive organs’ thin lining, known as the mesothelium. This cancer most commonly impacts the lungs in what is known as pleural mesothelioma.

Adenocarcinoma usually begins to form in the cells in the glands, which are found in the lungs and some other internal organs. Generally located along the outer edges of the lungs, adenocarcinoma also tends to develop in smaller airways like the bronchioles.

Did You Know?

The main difference between adenocarcinoma and mesothelioma cancer cells is the tissue the cells develop in, the physical structure of the cells, and behavior. Adenocarcinoma cells multiply slower than incredibly aggressive mesothelioma cells. For this reason, it is more likely for adenocarcinoma to be cured than mesothelioma.

Adenocarcinoma in the lungs is the most common subtype of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), making up about 40% of NSCLC cases. Several things, including exposure to asbestos, tobacco smoke, or other environmental toxins, may cause adenocarcinoma.

Unfortunately, patients can receive a misdiagnosis of mesothelioma or adenocarcinoma in the lungs. That is why it is so important to work with a mesothelioma specialist.

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Symptoms of Adenocarcinoma vs Mesothelioma

Both mesothelioma and adenocarcinoma symptoms vary depending on where the cancer cells develop.

Adenocarcinoma may form in the breast, colon, lungs, pancreas, or prostate glands.  However, adenocarcinoma most commonly forms in the lungs, and symptoms may be similar to those of pleural mesothelioma.

Symptoms of adenocarcinoma in the lungs may include:

  • Coughing up blood
  • Frequent respiratory tract infections
  • Pain in the chest, shoulder, or upper back
  • Persistent cough
  • Shortness of breath and trouble breathing
  • Swelling of the veins in the neck and/or the face
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Unexplained weight loss and loss of appetite
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Wheezing or a hoarse voice

Similarly, mesothelioma patients may experience these early warning signs:

  • Coughing up blood
  • Fatigue
  • Persistent cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trouble breathing or swallowing
  • Unexplained loss of appetite or weight loss

Diagnosis of Malignant Mesothelioma and Adenocarcinoma

A mesothelioma diagnosis may be confused with adenocarcinoma lung cancer, as they have similar symptoms. The most important factor in helping doctors differentiate these cancers is whether the patient has any history of asbestos exposure.

Did You Know?

A history of asbestos exposure is the main indicator of mesothelioma.

During a physical examination, doctors will review the patient’s medical history and genetics to figure out if more tests should be ordered and reviewed by specialists.

Imaging tests for a mesothelioma or an adenocarcinoma diagnosis can involve:

  • Computed tomography (CT/CAT) scans
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scans
  • X-rays

Use our Free Doctor Match to connect with a specialist near you who can give you an accurate diagnosis and create a personalized treatment plan.

Treating Mesothelioma vs Adenocarcinoma

Mesothelioma and adenocarcinoma must be treated differently because of the behavior of the cancer cells. Treatments also depend on disease stage, location, patient health, and other factors.

Options for mesothelioma treatment based on specialist recommendations could include:

  • Chemotherapy: Drugs are provided intravenously or orally to attack cancer cells through the bloodstream.
  • Palliative care: Procedures that can help improve quality of life and relieve symptoms for patients with mesothelioma.
  • Radiation therapy: External and internal radiation therapy can shrink tumors or relieve symptoms for patients with mesothelioma.
  • Surgery: Doctors remove as much of the cancerous growth as possible, depending on the stage of mesothelioma and if (and how far) it has spread.

Adenocarcinoma treatment types may also include those listed for mesothelioma, but the treatment application will vary.

Approved treatments for adenocarcinoma include:

  • Angiogenesis inhibitors: Angiogenesis makes new blood vessels to supply the cells with blood as the body grows and develops. This process feeds cancer cells and helps them to spread and grow. Angiogenesis inhibitors help slow the growth and spread of tumors by stopping the body from making new blood vessels.
  • Chemotherapy: Anti-cancer drugs are given to patients, usually in combination with radiation therapy or other treatment methods.
  • Immunotherapy: Works to strengthen the immune system’s ability to fight cancer by training it to recognize cancer cells selectively and kill them.
  • Radiation therapy: High-powered energy beams that kill cancer cells. This can be given as the main treatment during early-stage lung adenocarcinoma.
  • Surgery: Utilizing surgery to remove cancer, or as much of the cancerous growth as possible, depending on the stage presenting.
  • Targeted therapy: A type of therapy that targets cancer cells directly by focusing on the signals and certain parts of cells that cause cancer cells to thrive and grow.

Side effects of treatment are common and can be long-term or temporary. Before starting a new treatment, speak to your doctor about what to expect, how to manage certain side effects, and which side effects should be reported immediately.

Many cancer patients have been able to outlive their prognosis by undergoing life-extending treatments. Learn about the treatments that helped 7 mesothelioma patients beat the odds in your Free Mesothelioma Survivors Guide.

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7 authentic stories of mesothelioma patients who outlived their prognosis with support from loved ones

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Getting a Second Opinion on Adenocarcinoma vs Mesothelioma

Because lung adenocarcinoma and pleural mesothelioma (cancer of the lung lining, or pleura) closely resemble each other, it’s possible to receive a misdiagnosis of either. That’s why it’s critical to see a mesothelioma specialist for a second opinion.

Getting a second opinion will ensure you receive the right treatment for your unique situation. Additionally, if your mesothelioma or adenocarcinoma cancer was caused by exposure to asbestos, you may also be eligible for financial compensation to help you pay for treatment.

Mesothelioma vs Adenocarcinoma FAQs

What is the difference between adenocarcinoma and malignant mesothelioma?

Adenocarcinoma in the lungs grows at a slower rate than mesothelioma, making it easier to treat. While symptoms may overlap, these two types of cancers must be treated differently.

What are the symptoms of adenocarcinoma?

Symptoms of adenocarcinoma may vary depending on where the cancer cells originate. However, common symptoms of adenocarcinoma may include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Persistent cough
  • Unexplained loss of appetite or weight loss

These symptoms are also early signs of mesothelioma, and, unfortunately, mesothelioma may get misdiagnosed as adenocarcinoma. That is why it is important to work with a mesothelioma specialist if you are experiencing symptoms and have a history of asbestos exposure.

What are the treatment options for adenocarcinoma?

Treatment options for adenocarcinoma may be similar to other cancer treatments, including:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery
Amy FairReviewed by:Amy Fair, RN

Registered Nurse (RN)

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Amy Fair, RN, is a mesothelioma nurse with over 20 years of experience offering unwavering support to patients from the moment they are diagnosed and throughout the progression of their disease. Before becoming a mesothelioma nurse, Amy spent ten years providing compassionate care via home health care.

    Jenna TozziWritten by:

    Director of Patient Advocacy

    Jenna Tozzi, RN, is the Director of Patient Advocacy at Mesothelioma Hope. With more than 15 years of experience as an adult and pediatric oncology nurse navigator, Jenna provides exceptional guidance and support to mesothelioma patients and their loved ones. Jenna has been featured in Oncology Nursing News and is a member of the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators & the American Nurses Association.

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    1. American Cancer Society, “What is Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer?” Retrieved from: Accessed February 13, 2024.
    2. Cleveland Clinic. “Adenocarcinoma Cancers.” Retrieved from: Accessed February 13, 2024.
    3. Lungevity, “Lung Adenocarcinoma.” Retrieved from: Accessed February 13, 2024.
    4. Lungevity, “Signs & Symptoms.” Retrieved from: Accessed February 13, 2024.
    5. UPMC, “Adenocarcinoma.” Retrieved from: Accessed on Accessed February 13, 2024.
    6. WebMD. “Adenocarcinoma.” Retrieved from: Accessed February 13, 2024.
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