Gallbladder cancer is a rare form of cancer that starts in the inner tissue of the gallbladder. Some people may not notice any symptoms in the early stages.
This means gallbladder cancer is often hard to detect early, as doctors often do not discover it until a person develops symptoms in the later stages.
This article reviews gallbladder cancer, symptoms, risk factors, and more.
Gallbladder cancer is a
The gallbladder is a small organ located under the liver in the upper part of the abdomen. It is responsible for storing bile that the liver produces to help break down fat during digestion.
Though the gallbladder can aid digestion, a person
When they do occur, symptoms may include:
Less common symptoms can include:
- abdominal swelling
- weight loss
- dark urine
- light-colored or greasy stools
- loss of appetite
- itchy skin
A person may develop one of several different types of gallbladder cancer. The cells in which the cancer starts determine the type of cancer.
About 90% of all cases start in the gland-like cells that line the inside of the gallbladder. Doctors call this type adenocarcinoma.
Here are three examples of adenocarcinoma subtypes:
- nonpapillary adenocarcinoma — the most common subtype
- papillary adenocarcinoma — less common than nonpapillary, this type is unlikely to spread to the lymph nodes or liver and has the best outlook
- mucinous adenocarcinoma — the rarest subtype that starts in the cells that produce mucin, an ingredient in mucous
Less common types of gallbladder cancer include:
- squamous cell carcinoma
- adenosquamous carcinoma
Like other types of cancer, doctors will talk about the stage of gallbladder cancer a person has. The stages range from Stage 0 to Stage IV. The higher the stage, the more serious the cancer is.
The table below shows each stage and its description according to the
|Stage number||Stage description|
|0||Cancer is only present in the inner layer of gallbladder tissue. It has not spread to deeper layers of the gallbladder, nearby lymph nodes, or other organs.|
|I||Cancer has spread from the inner layer to the lining or muscle layer of the gallbladder.|
It has not spread to nearby lymph nodes or other organs.
|II||Cancer has spread from the lining or muscle layer into the fibrous tissue that lines the abdomen. |
Cancer has spread from the lining or muscle layer into the fibrous tissue on the side of the liver, but has not invaded the liver.
It has not spread to nearby lymph nodes or distant organs.
|III||Cancer has spread to the outer lining of the gallbladder, the liver, and/or 1 nearby organ such as the small intestine, stomach, pancreas, or colon. It has not spread to nearby lymph nodes or distant organs.|
Cancer might or might not have spread outside the gallbladder to the liver and/or one other nearby organ, but it has not spread to the main blood vessels leading into the liver.
It has not spread to more than 3 nearby lymph nodes.
|IV||Cancer has spread to one main blood vessel leading to the liver or 2 or more organs outside the liver. It might or might not have spread to 3 nearby lymph nodes. It has not spread to distant organs.|
Cancer might or might not have spread outside the gallbladder, but it has spread to 4 or more nearby lymph nodes. It has not spread to distant organs.
Cancer might or might not have spread outside the gallbladder or to nearby lymph nodes.
It has spread to distant organs such as the liver, the abdomen lining, or the lungs.
The exact causes of gallbladder cancer are still unknown. According to the
Gallbladder inflammation can result from gallstones. These may cause the gallbladder to release bile more slowly, exposing the cells to the chemicals in bile for longer than usual, causing irritation.
Gallbladder inflammation can also result from abnormalities in the ducts that take fluids from the gallbladder and pancreas to the small intestine. These defects can also allow pancreatic juices to flow back into the gallbladder, causing irritation.
Chronic inflammation in the gallbladder may also contribute to changes in cell DNA. Mutations in cell DNA are a cause of cancerous tumors.
Some factors increase a person’s chances of developing gallbladder cancer. Some known risk factors for the cancer
- porcelain gallbladder, a condition where calcium deposits cover the organ
- older age
- choledochal cysts, which are bile-filled sacs
- gallbladder polyps
- abnormalities in the bile ducts
- typhoid infection
- family history
- primary sclerosing cholangitis, an inflammatory condition that causes scar tissue
Other possible factors include smoking and exposure to certain chemicals. The connection between these factors is not as clear as some other risk factors.
Gender and ethnicity
Gallbladder cancer is more common among females than males. According to a
Another risk factor for gallbladder cancer is ethnicity. Mexican Americans, Latin Americans, and Native Americans have the highest risk in the U.S., and African Americans have the lowest risk.
According to the study, this may be due to differences in genetics, lifestyle, diet, and limited access to healthcare. However, the reasons are largely unknown.
Another risk factor is geographical location. Compared with the U.S., gallbladder cancer is more common in Central Europe, India, Pakistan, and South America.
Even with successful treatment, gallbladder cancer can return. If a tumor returns, it
- abdominal pain
- obstructive jaundice caused by blocked bile ducts
- unexplained weight loss
Early detection of gallbladder cancer is often
Also, no blood or diagnostic tools exist to detect the cancer. In most cases, a person only discovers gallbladder cancer when it has grown large enough to cause symptoms.
When a person visits their doctor due to symptoms, their doctor will likely discuss the person’s symptoms and medical history. They will likely perform a physical examination.
If the doctor suspects gallbladder cancer, they will likely recommend different tests to help determine if cancer is present. Tests
- blood tests to look for tumor markers
- liver function tests
- CT scan
- ultrasound scan
- endoscopic ultrasound
- MRI scan
Doctors have a few different methods to help treat and potentially cure gallbladder cancer.
Surgery offers the highest chance of successful treatment of gallbladder cancer. A doctor may recommend a radical cholecystectomy if the cancer has not spread past the gallbladder.
In this procedure, a surgeon removes the entire gallbladder, surrounding lymph nodes, and some of the surrounding tissue. If the cancer has spread beyond the gallbladder, they may increase how much tissue they take.
Other treatment options are available if surgery is unsuccessful or not recommended. They may include:
- radiation therapy
- blockage removal to relieve symptoms
A person cannot directly prevent most types of gallbladder cancer. Many risk factors come from aspects a person cannot change, such as age or ethnicity.
However, a person can take some steps that may reduce their risk,
- eating a healthy, balanced diet
- exercising regularly
- maintaining a healthy weight
- quitting smoking
- avoiding alcohol
Several factors can affect a person’s overall outlook. Some common influences
- successful removal of entire cancer during surgery
- stage of the cancer
- a newly diagnosed case versus recurrence
- the type of gallbladder cancer
According to the
- Local: 66%
- Regional, meaning it has spread to local lymph nodes or surrounding tissue: 28%
- Distant, meaning it has spread to other organs in the body: 2%
- Combined regional and distant: 19%
These statistics are from 2011 to 2017. The current survival rate may differ due to improvements in treatments.
Gallbladder cancer is a rare form of cancer that starts in the gallbladder.
No tests or screenings can check for gallbladder cancer. It also does not typically cause symptoms until later stages.
Gallbladder cancer is more common among females and those of Mexican American, Latin American, and Native American descent.
Treatment often involves the removal of the gallbladder, though it may also include radiation or chemotherapy. A person’s highest chance of success happens when doctors detect the cancer early.
Some behaviors can reduce a person’s risk of developing gallbladder cancer, such as eating a healthy, balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and exercising regularly.