Gallbladder cancer can be deadly, particularly among those with a late diagnosis. Gallbladder tumors spread quickly and may affect the lymph nodes and liver. These and other factors contribute to a low survival rate.

Gallbladder cancer occurs when cancerous cells begin to grow and multiply uncontrollably within the gallbladder. These cells can form tumors that may spread to other parts of the body.

The survival rates for gallbladder cancer depend on the individual and the stage of disease. Among people who receive early diagnosis and treatment, the 5-year survival rate is 66%. However, those who receive a late diagnosis have only a 2% chance of surviving for at least 5 years.

This article will review some factors that make a person more likely to develop gallbladder cancer. Keep reading to learn more about what decreases the chance of survival and why, the outlook, and frequently asked questions.

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Certain individuals may be more likely to develop gallbladder cancer. Risk factors for this disease include:

  • female sex
  • older age
  • a history of gallstones
  • porcelain gallbladder — a buildup of calcium deposits on the gallbladder wall
  • a history of gallbladder inflammation
  • family background of gallbladder cancer
  • Mexican, Latin American, or Native American ethnicity
  • choledochal cysts
  • abnormalities of the bile ducts
  • gallbladder polyps
  • primary sclerosing cholangitis
  • typhoid
  • smoking
  • exposure to certain chemicals
  • obesity

Survival rates

Certain genetic traits can decrease the chance of surviving gallbladder cancer. For example, a 2019 review noted that, among people in Chile with Mapuche ancestry, the risk of death from gallbladder cancer increased 3.7% for every additional 1% of Mapuche ancestry.

Women are more likely to die of gallbladder cancer than men. Research shows that about 25,000 more women than men died of this cancer in 2018. Individuals with gallbladder cancer also have an increased risk of dying from cardiovascular issues.

Risk factors can increase a person’s chances of both developing and dying from gallbladder cancer. Individuals living with this disease should speak with their doctor to learn more.

While doctors can easily detect some types of cancer in the early stages, gallbladder cancer is difficult to diagnose because of a lack of reliable screening tests. Around 4 in 5 people with gallbladder cancer receive a late diagnosis.

This is in part because most people with this disease do not experience any symptoms until the cancer has spread. Any symptoms people do have may mimic those of other conditions.

Additionally, the gallbladder is located behind the liver, which can make it difficult to see any changes. Doctors may not be able to distinguish gallbladder cancer from other conditions using routine imaging tests.

Research estimates that the 5-year survival rate is less than 5% for infiltrative stage 3 or 4 tumors. The fact that most people receive a late diagnosis is one reason this cancer can be so deadly.

Gallbladder cancer can spread to many parts of the body, including the:

  • stomach
  • colon
  • lungs
  • liver
  • pancreas
  • lymph nodes
  • small intestine
  • bones

The spread of cancer to different organs can negatively affect an individual’s outlook. More than half of gallbladder cancers spread to the liver. This harms liver function and decreases the chance of survival.

The overall survival rate may vary depending on where the cancer spreads. Isolated spread to the lungs or distant lymph nodes has a longer survival than isolated spread to bone.

The overall 5-year survival rate for gallbladder cancer is 19%. This varies depending on the individual and the cancer stage. Individuals in the earliest stages have a 66% chance of 5-year survival, while people in the latest stage have only a 2% chance.

However, gallbladder cancer is a very rare form of cancer. It mainly affects older individuals and is most common among those with a history of gallstones.

Anyone at risk for gallbladder cancer should consult a doctor to learn more about what they can do to reduce this risk. Strategies may include:

  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • eating a balanced diet
  • exercising
  • avoiding alcohol

The outlook for gallbladder cancer varies between individuals and depends on a host of factors. Let’s review a few frequently asked questions to learn more.

Is gallbladder cancer always fatal?

Gallbladder cancer is not always fatal. Individuals who receive a diagnosis at an early stage have a 66% chance of surviving for at least 5 years.

However, this chance decreases to about 2% in cases in which gallbladder cancer has spread. Most people with gallbladder cancer receive a diagnosis when their cancer has advanced. This is a large part of what makes this disease so deadly.

What is the life expectancy for gallbladder cancer?

The life expectancy for gallbladder cancer depends on how advanced the cancer is at the time of diagnosis. Individuals who receive a diagnosis in an early stage may live for years and ultimately recover. In cases of advanced cancer, the average life expectancy is about 5 months.

Does gallbladder cancer spread quickly?

The rate of gallbladder cancer spread differs from person to person. In the earlier stages, cancer cells typically spread more slowly. As the disease progresses, these cells begin to grow and spread more quickly.

An individual with gallbladder cancer should speak with their doctor to learn more about how quickly their condition may progress.

What are the risk factors for gallbladder cancer?

Gallstones are the most common risk factor for gallbladder cancer. Individuals with a history of gallbladder problems have a much higher risk of gallbladder cancer.

The risk of this cancer increases with age, and this cancer is more common among women than men. People with a family history of gallbladder cancer are also at a higher risk. Additionally, individuals who have obesity or who smoke or drink alcohol may be more likely to develop this disease.

Gallbladder cancer begins when cancerous cells grow uncontrollably in the gallbladder. Over time, this cancer may spread to other areas of the body, such as the liver and lymph nodes.

Most people with gallbladder cancer receive a diagnosis after their cancer has spread. Advanced cases do not typically respond to treatment, and gallbladder cancer has a high mortality rate.

Individuals at risk of this disease can take steps to prevent gallbladder cancer. Following a balanced diet, exercising, and maintaining a moderate weight can all decrease the risk of this disease. A person can speak with a doctor to learn more.