November 28, 2023

The term carcinoma describes a group of cancers that start from epithelial cells, specialized cells covering an organ’s outside and inside surfaces. This type of cancer can start in any location where epithelial cells are normally found including the skin, breast, lungs, oral cavity, esophagus, stomach, colon, prostate, bladder, ovary, uterus, and cervix. As a group, carcinomas are the most common type of human cancer.

Types of carcinomas include:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma: This is a type of cancer made up of abnormal squamous cells. Common locations for this type of cancer include the skin, lungs, oral cavity, and cervix.
  • Adenocarcinoma: This is a type of cancer made up of glandular cells. Adenocarcinoma can occur in almost any location where glandular cells are normally found including the lungs, stomach, colon, pancreas, bladder, ovary, and endometrium.
  • Neuroendocrine carcinoma: This is a type of cancer made up of cells that have properties of both epithelial cells and endocrine cells. This type of cancer can also arise in almost any location but it is most commonly found in the lungs, skin, and digestive tract.
This image shows an example of carcinoma in the breast.

What causes carcinoma?

The cause of a carcinoma depends on many factors including the carcinoma subtype and the location of the tumour. For example, most carcinomas in the lungs are caused by smoking while most carcinomas in the cervix are commonly caused by infection with human papillomavirus (HPV).

Are all cancers carcinomas?

No. Carcinoma is a type of cancer but not all cancers are carcinomas. Other types of cancers include lymphoma, melanoma, and sarcoma.

About this article

Doctors wrote this article to assist you in reading and comprehending your pathology report. Feel free to reach out to us with any questions about this article or your pathology report. To get a comprehensive introduction to your pathology report, read this article.

Other helpful resources

Canadian Cancer Society
American Cancer Society
A+ A A-