gallbladder cancer : causes, symptoms and treatment

Gallbladder Cancer : Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

(Last Updated On: January 25, 2018)

What Is Gallbladder Cancer ?

Gallbladder cancer is cancer that arises in the gallbladder.

Your gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ on the right side of your abdomen, just under your liver. The gallbladder stores digestive juice, a digestive juice created by your liver.

Gallbladder cancer is rare. when gallbladder cancer is discovered at its earliest stages, the possibility for a cure is very good.

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However, most gallbladder cancers are discovered at a late stage, when the prognosis is usually very poor.

Gallbladder cancer is tough to diagnose because it usually causes no specific signs or symptoms. Also, the almost hidden nature of the gallbladder makes it easier for gallbladder cancer to spread without being detected.


Gallbladder cancer does not show symptoms in its early stages, but, sometimes symptoms can appear early and lead to an early diagnosis. If the cancer is found at an earlier stage, treatment could be more effective.

Some of the most common symptoms of gallbladder cancer are:

Abdominal (belly) pain

Most people with gallbladder cancer can have abdominal pain. most frequently this is in the upper right part of the belly.

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Nausea and/or vomiting

People with gallbladder cancer sometimes have vomiting as a symptom.


Jaundice is a yellowing of the skin and also the white part of the eyes. If cancer grows large enough to block the bile ducts, bile from the liver can’t drain into the intestines. this could cause bilirubin (a chemical in bile that provides it a yellow color) to make up in the blood and settle in several parts of the body. this can usually be seen in the skin and eyes.

Lumps in the belly

If cancer blocks the bile ducts, the gallbladder will swell to larger than normal. gallbladder cancer also can spread to nearby parts of the liver. These will sometimes be felt by the doctor as lumps on the right side of the belly. they will also be detected by imaging tests like an ultrasound.

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Less common symptoms of gallbladder cancer include:

Loss of appetite
Weight loss
Swelling in the abdomen (belly)
Itchy skin
Dark urine
light-colored or greasy stools

Gallbladder cancer isn’t common, and these symptoms and signs are more probably to be caused by something apart from gallbladder cancer.

As an example, people with gallstones also have many of these symptoms. There are several far more common causes of abdominal pain than gallbladder cancer.

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And viral hepatitis (infection of the liver) may be a much more common reason behind jaundice. Still, if you have any of these problems, it’s necessary to see your doctor quickly so the cause can be found and treated, if needed.


It’s not clear what causes gallbladder cancer.

Doctors know that gallbladder cancer starts when healthy gallbladder cells make 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 which will grow beyond the gallbladder and spread to other areas of the body.

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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 termed adenocarcinoma.This term refers to the way the cancer cells appear when observed under a microscope.

Risk Factors


Gender: gallbladder cancer happens more as often in women as compared to in men, and this might be linked with the increased number of gallstones and chronic inflammation.

Age: gallbladder cancer occurs mainly in people over the age of 65, and the average age at diagnosis is 73.

Ethnicity and geography: gallbladder cancer occurs more commonly in Mexican Americans and Native Americans Than African Americans. However, gallbladder cancer is less common in the united states compared with countries in Asia, Eastern Europe, and South America.

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Obesity: Being overweight or obese could be a risk factor for gallbladder cancer, and should be associated with the enhanced risk of developing gallstones.


Family history: although the genetic cause is unknown, the chance of gallbladder cancer appears to increase in families with a history of the disease.

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Chemical exposure: Some studies have shown that exposure to certain industrial chemicals, particularly those used in the rubber and textile industries, is also linked to an enhanced risk of gallbladder cancer. However, the link isn’t sure, and more research is required.


Gallstones: The leading gallbladder cancer risk factor is the presence of gallstones, that are detected in over 75 % of patients with gallbladder cancer. These hard, rock-like deposits will form from cholesterol and other substances located in the bile.

Gallstones will block the movement of digestive fluid(bile), and cause chronic inflammation. However, gallstones are quite common, particularly in middle-aged women, and most people with this condition don’t develop gallbladder cancer.

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Porcelain gallbladder: this is a condition in which the wall of the gallbladder cover by calcium deposits, and some but not all studies have suggested a connection between this condition and the development of gallbladder cancer. There is also a link between chronic inflammation and the calcification of the gallbladder.

Choledochal cysts: Bile-filled cysts could develop along the common bile duct that leads from the gallbladder and liver to the small intestine. sometimes the lining of the cysts could develop pre-cancerous cells, increasing the chance of cancer.

Bile duct abnormalities: other conditions that cause the bile duct to backup or lead to inflammation of the gallbladder can also be potential risk factors.

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gallbladder polyps: These are abnormal growths that form on the gallbladder. they will be caused by cholesterol deposits or by inflammation. Larger polyps (bigger than a centimeter) have a bigger probability of being cancerous, and doctors usually suggest removing the gallbladder when larger polyps are found.

Typhoid: people with a chronic salmonella infection, that is the bacterium that causes typhoid, may be at enhanced risk for gallbladder cancer, but this is rare in the united states.


Tests and procedures used to diagnose gallbladder cancer are:

Blood tests : Blood tests could help your doctor to detect your liver function and ensure what’s causing your signs and symptoms.
Procedures to make images of the gallbladder : Imaging tests that may produce pictures of the gallbladder include ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Determining the extent of gallbladder cancer

The doctor works to find the extent (stage) of your cancer, After your doctor diagnoses your gallbladder cancer, Doctor works to find the extent (stage) of your cancer. Your gallbladder cancer’s stage helps confirm your prognosis and your treatment options.

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Tests and procedures used to stage gallbladder cancer include:

Exploratory surgery  : Your doctor could recommend surgery to look inside your abdomen for signs that gallbladder cancer has spread.

in a procedure referred to as laparoscopy, the surgeon makes a small incision in your abdomen and inserts a little camera. The camera permits the surgeon to check organs surrounding your gallbladder for signs that cancer has spread.

Tests to examine the bile ducts : Your doctor could suggest procedures to inject dye into the digestive fluid ducts. this can be followed by an imaging test that records where the dye goes. These tests will show blockages in the bile ducts.

These tests could include endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography, magnetic resonance cholangiography, and percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography.

Additional imaging tests : most people with gallbladder cancer can undergo a series of scans to help determine whether cancer has spread or remains localized. which scans should be performed vary depending on your circumstances. Common scans include a CT of the chest and abdomen, ultrasonography, and an MRI of the liver.


The stages of gallbladder cancer are:

Stage I :  At this stage, gallbladder cancer is limited to the inner layers of the gallbladder.

Stage II : This stage of gallbladder cancer has grown to invade the outer layer of the gallbladder.

Stage III : At this stage, gallbladder cancer has grown to invade one or more close organs, like the liver, small intestine or stomach. The gallbladder cancer might have spread to near lymph nodes.

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Stage IV : the latest stage of gallbladder cancer includes massive tumors that involve multiple nearby organs and tumors of any size that have spread to distant areas of the body.


What gallbladder cancer treatment options are available to you may depend on the stage of your cancer, your overall health, and your preferences.

The initial goal of treatment is to remove the gallbladder cancer, however, when that isn’t possible, other therapies might help control the spread of the disease and keep you as comfortable as possible.

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Surgery for early-stage gallbladder cancer

Surgery could also be a possibility if you have an early-stage gallbladder cancer. options include:

Surgery to remove the gallbladder : Early gallbladder cancer that’s confined to the gallbladder is treated with an operation to remove the gallbladder (cholecystectomy).

Surgery to remove the gallbladder and some of the liver : gallbladder cancer that extends beyond the gallbladder and into the liver is usually treated with surgery to remove the gallbladder, as well as parts of the liver and digestive fluid ducts that surround the gallbladder.

It’s not clear whether additional treatments after successful surgery will increase the possibilities that your gallbladder cancer will not return. Some studies have found this to be the case, so in some instances, your doctor might suggest chemotherapy, radiation therapy or a mixture of both after surgery.

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Discuss the potential advantages and risks of additional treatment along with your doctor to determine what is right for you.

Treatments for late-stage gallbladder cancer

Surgery cannot cure gallbladder cancer that has spread to other areas of the body. Instead, doctors use treatments which will relieve signs and symptoms of cancer and make you as comfortable as possible.

Options might include:

Chemotherapy : chemotherapy is a drug treatment that uses chemicals to kill cancer cells.

Radiation therapy : Radiation uses high-powered beams of energy, like X-rays and protons, to kill cancer cells.

Clinical trials : Clinical trials are studies testing experimental or new medications to treat gallbladder cancer. discuss with your doctor to examine whether you are eligible to participate in a clinical trial.

 Sources :

American Cancer Society


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