An adenoma is a benign neoplastic growth originating in the glandular epithelial cells. These cells compose structures throughout the body whose purpose it is to secrete substances such as breast milk, sweat, saliva, mucous, and hormones. The pancreas, thyroid, colon, and adrenal glands are among the high-risk environments for adenoma development and growth. Although the term adenoma characterizes a benign tumor, it should be noted that such a growth could progress into a malignant cancer over time, at which point it is known as an adenocarcinoma. Furthermore, even in the benign state, an adenoma can result in serious health complications such as mass effect (the compression of structures surrounding anomalous tissue growth) and the overproduction of hormones.
Adenoma Common Signs and Symptoms
Because glandular epithelial cells are located in so many different structures throughout the body, the symptoms of the growth vary tremendously. It should be noted that some adenomas are completely asymptomatic, require no treatment whatsoever, and are often never even detected. Adenomas that have a tendency to become malignant and/or commonly cause other health complications include:
- Adenomas of the Colon: Adenomas of the colon are very common and elevate a patient’s chances of developing colon cancer. These adenomas are typically found during a colonoscopy (the examination of the large colon and parts of the bowel using a fiber optic camera or a CCD camera) and are usually removed.
- Adenomas of the Thyroid: Studies indicate that as many as 1 in 10 people develop solitary thyroid nodules. Given the commonality of these nodules, most are asymptomatic. Certain cases of thyroid adenomas, particularly when biopsied cells are of the follicular type, pose a serious health risk to the patient. These adenomas are usually removed to prevent malignant development and/or other health complications.
- Adenomas of the Appendix: Adenomas of the appendix are very rare, but when they occur they commonly develop into adenocarcinomas (the malignant equivalent, if you will, to an adenoma). As a result, these adenomas are typically removed immediately. Once again, this type of adenoma is extremely rare; most physicians will never witness an actual case during their career. Interestingly, adenomas in the appendix were found in former Vice President Dan Quayle.
Diagnosing an adenoma, again underlying the variable nature of such a growth, can include the testing of blood and urine samples, computed tomography (CT scan), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Biopsy is usually employed to determine whether or not a growth is malignant or benign.
Treatments for adenomas vary as widely as its symptoms. If an adenoma is small and asymptomatic it is usually left alone (assuming that it is even detected). Adenomas that result in the overproduction of hormones are usually treated with drugs that are designed to reduce hormone production and related symptoms. If an adenoma is presenting a patient with health complications and drug therapy is ineffective and/or the patient is not a candidate for such therapy, the adenoma is usually biopsied or removed completely utilizing various surgical procedures. These procedures vary depending on the size and location of the tumor.