What is gallbladder cancer?
Gallbladder cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the gallbladder.
The gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ that lies just under the liver in the upper abdomen. The gallbladder stores bile, a fluid made by the liver to digest fat. When food is being broken down in the stomach and intestines, bile is released from the gallbladder through a tube called the common bile duct, which connects the gallbladder and liver to the first part of the small intestine.
When gallbladder cancer is discovered at its earliest stages, the chance for a cure is very good. But most gallbladder cancers are discovered at a late stage, when the prognosis is often very poor.
How common is gallbladder cancer?
Gallbladder cancer is a rare disease. Women are more likely to develop gallbladder cancer than men. However, it can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of gallbladder cancer?
Some common gallbladder cancer signs and symptoms may include:
- Abdominal pain, particularly in the upper right portion of the abdomen
- Abdominal bloating
- Loss of appetite
- Losing weight without trying
- Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
However, gallbladder cancer is difficult to detect and diagnose early.
When should I see my doctor?
Early diagnosis and treatment can stop gallbladder cancer from worsening and prevent another medical emergency, so talk to your doctor as soon as possible to prevent this serious condition.
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consulting with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes gallbladder cancer?
Until now, it is not clear what the causes of gallbladder cancer are. Doctors know that gallbladder cancer forms when healthy gallbladder cells develop changes (mutations) in their DNA. These mutations cause cells to grow out of control and to continue living when other cells would normally die. The accumulating cells form a tumor that can grow beyond the gallbladder and spread to other areas of the body.
Most gallbladder cancer begins in the glandular cells that line the inner surface of the gallbladder. Gallbladder cancer that begins in this type of cell is called adenocarcinoma. This term refers to the way the cancer cells appear when examined under a microscope.
What increases my risk for gallbladder cancer?
Factors that can increase the risk of gallbladder cancer include:
- Your sex: Gallbladder cancer is more common in women.
- Your age: Your risk of gallbladder cancer increases as you age.
- Your weight: People who are obese are at higher risk for developing gallbladder cancer.
- A history of gallstones: Gallbladder cancer is most common in people who have had gallstones in the past. Still, gallbladder cancer is very rare in these people.
- Other gallbladder diseases and conditions: Other gallbladder conditions that can increase the risk of gallbladder cancer include porcelain gallbladder, choledochal cyst and chronic gallbladder infection.
Diagnosis & Treatment
How is gallbladder cancer diagnosed?
Tests and procedures used to diagnose gallbladder cancer include:
- Blood tests: Blood tests to evaluate your liver function may help your doctor determine what’s causing your signs and symptoms.
- Procedures to create images of the gallbladder: Imaging tests that can create pictures of the gallbladder include ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
The stages of gallbladder cancer are:
- Stage I: At this stage, gallbladder cancer is confined to the inner layers of the gallbladder.
- Stage II: This stage of gallbladder cancer has grown to invade the outer layer of the gallbladder and may extend beyond the gallbladder.
- Stage III: At this stage, gallbladder cancer has grown to invade one or more nearby organs, such as the liver, small intestine or stomach. The gallbladder cancer may have spread to nearby lymph nodes.
- Stage IV: The latest stage of gallbladder cancer includes large tumors that involve multiple nearby organs and tumors of any size that have spread to distant areas of the body.
How is gallbladder cancer treated?
Based on the stage of your cancer, your overall health and your preferences, the gallbladder cancer treatment options are determined. The initial goal of treatment is to remove the gallbladder cancer, but when that isn’t possible, other therapies may help control the spread of the disease and keep you as comfortable as possible.
Surgery may be an option if you have an early-stage gallbladder cancer. Options include:
- Surgery to remove the gallbladder: Early gallbladder cancer that is confined to the gallbladder is treated with an operation to remove the gallbladder (cholecystectomy).
- Surgery to remove the gallbladder and a portion of the liver: Gallbladder cancer that extends beyond the gallbladder and into the liver is sometimes treated with surgery to remove the gallbladder, as well as portions of the liver and bile ducts that surround the gallbladder.
Surgery can’t cure gallbladder cancer that has spread to other areas of the body. Instead, doctors use treatments that may relieve signs and symptoms of cancer and make you as comfortable as possible. Three options below may include:
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is a drug treatment that uses chemicals to kill cancer cells.
- Radiation therapy: Radiation uses high-powered beams of energy, such as X-rays, to kill cancer cells.
- Clinical trials: Clinical trials use experimental or new medications to treat gallbladder cancer. Talk to your doctor to see whether you’re eligible to participate in a clinical trial.
Lifestyle changes & Home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage gallbladder cancer?
You should eat foods high in fiber and healthy fats to help prevent gallbladder cancer. Refined grains (found in sugary cereals and white rice, bread, and pasta) and sugar are associated with a higher risk of gallbladder cancer. Whole grains like brown rice and whole wheat bread and fats from fish and olive oil are all recommended.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Gallbladder cancer. http://www.webmd.com/cancer/tc/gallbladder-cancer-treatment-patient-information-nci-pdq-general-information-about-gallbladder#2. Accessed Mar 2, 2017.
Gallbladder cancer. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gallbladder-cancer/basics/coping-support/con-20023909. Accessed Mar 2, 2017.
Gallbladder cancer. http://www.healthline.com/health/gallbladder-disease#Overview1. Accessed Mar 2, 2017.
Review Date: March 2, 2017 | Last Modified: September 12, 2019