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Carcinoma : Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

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The most common type of cancer is carcinoma. It accounts for nearly 90% of all cancer diagnoses. Carcinomas  form on the tissues that protect your organs, internal passageways in your body, and skin and also in organs like  lungs, breasts, prostate, colon, kidneys, pancreas, and other organs. This type of cancer creates abnormal cells that uncontrollably divide and spread to the other body parts. It is essential to note that not all cancers are carcinomas.

The blog explains carcinoma, its types, symptoms, causes, and treatment options.

What is Carcinoma?

As mentioned above, it is a common form of cancer that uncontrollably multiplies and spreads to form tumors on the lining of the organs. The protective lining is known as epithelial tissue. It commonly appears on the breasts, internal organs, gastrointestinal tract, glands, and internal passageways. 

The development of the disease is defined in stages, and the characteristics of the cells are described in grades. These stages and grades help your doctor predict your cancer’s aggressiveness and malignancy. If you have invasive carcinoma, it has spread to the nearby tissues, whereas metastatic carcinoma means it spread to other body parts.

What are the Types of Carcinomas?

There are six common types of carcinomas. They are as follows:

  1. Adenocarcinoma: Cancer affects the glandular epithelial cells in the organs. These cells produce fluids, such as mucus and digestive juices. Some examples of adenocarcinomas are breast, colorectal, pancreatic, and most prostate cancers. Close to 85% of all kidney cancer are adenocarcinoma. 
  2. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC): It affects the deepest layer of the epidermis. The epidermis is the topmost layer of the skin. When the top layer of the epidermis dies, the basal cells replace them. BCC is the most common form of skin cancer. It is most often caused by spending a lot of time in the sun or having  sunburns. 
  3. Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) rapidly spreads more than BCC and is the second most common skin cancer. It develops in the top layer of the skin where it is most exposed to the sun, such as the face, ears, neck, arms, legs, and other body parts. It can also develop in the mucous membrane of the internal organs, such as the lungs, esophagus, head, and neck. SCC is also known as epidermoid carcinoma. 
  4. Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS): It is a highly treatable cancer that develops in the breast milk ducts. Through these ducts, the milk flows to your nipples during breastfeeding. However, ‘in situ’ means cancer hasn’t spread to another body part. It is considered noninvasive or pre-invasive breast cancer
  5. Invasive (infiltrating) ductal carcinoma is the most common type of breast cancer and spreads to nearby tissues. It can spread to other body parts through your lymphatic system if untreated. It accounts for nearly 80% of breast cancers. 
  6. Renal cell carcinoma: The most common form of kidney cancer is renal cell carcinoma. Your doctor may discover it when performing tests for another health condition or when the tumor has enlarged and spread to other body parts. 

What are the Symptoms of Carcinomas?

Each carcinoma exhibits different symptoms. They are as follows. 

  1. Adenocarcinoma symptoms:
  1. Invasive ductal carcinoma symptoms:
  • Lumps in the breast
  • Skin darkening 
  • Swelling
  • Dimpling around the nipple 
  • Nipple discharge
  • Lumps in the armpit
  1. Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) symptoms:
  • Small lumps in the breast
  • Discharge from the nipples
  1. Renal cell carcinoma symptoms:
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme pain in the side of the body
  • A lump in the abdomen
  • Blood when urinating
  • Anemia
  1. Squamous cell carcinoma symptoms:
  • Skin patches that are scaly and dark
  • Open sores with raised borders
  • Firm growths
  • Spots that are similar to age spots
  • Wart-like and horn-like growths
  • Sores on the scars
  1. Basal cell carcinoma symptoms:
  • Open sores that do not heal
  • Dark patches of skin
  • Shiny bumps 
  • Raised scar-like areas

What are the Causes of Carcinomas?

Like any other cancer,  carcinomas start with a mutated gene that transforms healthy cells into cancer cells. These cancer cells grow and spread to other healthy tissues. Eventually, it enters the bloodstream and lymphatic nodes to move to the other body parts. However, experts are unaware of the cause of the mutation, but they know certain risk factors contributing to the mutations, such as:

  • Age
  • Genetics
  • Toxins, such as asbestos, tobacco smoke, radiation, or industrial chemicals
  • Viruses, including human papillomavirus, hepatitis, or Epstein-Barr virus 
  • Inflammatory conditions, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • Sun exposure

When to Seek Medical Help?

If you experience any of the following symptoms, contacting your doctor may help.


Are There Stages of Carcinomas?

Staging is used to categorize the extent of cancers spread in the body. They are classified as follows:

  • Stage 0:  Abnormal cells that look like cancer cells under a microscope are found only in the place where they first formed and haven’t spread to nearby tissue. At some point, these cells may become cancerous and spread into nearby normal tissue. 
  • Stage 1: The cancerous tumour hasn’t spread to the neighbouring tissues or lymph nodes
  • Stage 2 & 3: The tumour may have spread to neighbouring healthy issues and possibly the lymph nodes
  • Stage 4: It has spread to other body parts and organs. Now, doctors referred it as metastasized cancer. 

How do Doctors Diagnose Carcinomas?

Your doctor will complete a medical examination, review your family medical history, and evaluate your symptoms. They may recommend the following tests:

  • Physical exam to check for abnormal growth in different body parts. 
  • Blood tests help detect any increase in protein and enzyme levels or identify tumour markers .
  • Imaging tests, such as mammograms or colonoscopies, detect carcinomas early. X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, PET CT scans and other imaging tests show the severity and the various locations that cancer has spread. 
  • A biopsy is the only way to confirm the diagnosis. Shave biopsy, punch biopsy, fine-needle aspiration biopsy, core needle biopsy, surgical lymph node biopsy, incisional biopsy, and excisional biopsy are various types of biopsies. All these biopsies require the doctor to remove a part of the affected area  to test for cancer cells.  
  • Lab tests such as urine and other fluid tests may indicate the cancer cell markers. However, these tests do not give a confirmed diagnosis of cancer. Therefore, the doctor may recommend additional tests as well. 

What are the Various Treatment Options for Carcinomas? 

The doctor plans your treatment based on the severity, stage, location, and spread of cancer. Discuss with your doctor the various treatment options that match your condition. The following are the standard treatment options:

  • Surgery: This treatment option is recommended when the tumor has not spread to other locations and has remained in the location where it developed. The doctor may remove the cancer cells along with a margin of healthy tissue. 
  • Chemotherapy: Your doctor will administer medications to kill the cancer cells or prevent them from rapidly multiplying. This treatment may also need to be combined with other therapies, such as surgery or radiation. Sometimes, your doctor may use chemotherapy before the surgery to shrink the cancer cells.. Your doctor may also suggest chemotherapy after the surgery to prevent the reoccurrence of cancer. 
  • Radiation therapy uses energy beams, such as x-rays, to kill or prevent cancer cells from multiplying. Most often, the doctor uses radiation with chemotherapy and surgery. Like chemotherapy, radiation also shrinks the tumor before surgery or kills the remaining cancer cells after surgery. It is also known to relieve symptoms based on the type of carcinoma.
  • Targeted therapy: As the name suggests, the treatment uses medications that target a particular gene or weakness in cancer cells to kill or prevent cancer cells from multiplying. 
  • Immunotherapy: This treatment assists your immune system in recognizing cancer cells and killing them. Again, this treatment is used with other treatments, such as chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation.
  • Hormone therapy: Lessening certain sex hormones can minimize the growth of carcinoma. If you are exposed to estrogen for a prolonged period, you may develop breast cancer. Similarly, exposure to androgens may be linked to prostate cancer


Most people diagnosed with any form of carcinoma worry about the prognosis . But it depends on their condition’s location, spread, and severity. Most carcinomas as treatable if diagnosed at the earliest and if you are provided with timely medical treatment. It is best to discuss with your doctor the prognosis of your condition. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Are carcinomas serious?

Based on the location, severity, and condition, it can be serious. Metastasized carcinomas are more serious than carcinomas in situ. 

How can I reduce my risk of developing carcinoma?

The following lifestyle changes will help you from developing carcinoma:

  • Avoid or quit smoking or using tobacco products
  • Retain a healthy body weight
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Use sunscreen with SPF 15 or more
  • Avoid tanning beds
  • Avoid going out in the sun from 10 am to 4 pm 
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