Understanding Gallbladder Cancer And
How To Manage It

Your guide to understanding all aspects of gallbladder cancer

“Keep your face to the sunshine and you can never see the shadow.”

Helen Keller

Early detection and diagnosis always increase your chances of receiving successful treatment and beating all forms of cancer – including gallbladder cancer. Detecting gallbladder cancer early will significantly boost your odds of survival.

You can read the section that details the various types of cancer before embarking on the journey to understand gallbladder cancer better. Read more

Let’s understand
the anatomy first

The gallbladder is a small pear-shaped organ located in your upper abdomen, next to the liver. The gallbladder stores bile, a fluid made by the liver which helps to digest the fats in food. 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 small intestine.

What is gallbladder cancer?

Gallbladder cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancerous) cells form in the tissues of the gallbladder. Cancer begins when healthy cells in the gallbladder start mutating or changing. Such mutations cause these cells to grow rapidly and prevent cell death. The accumulation of these abnormal cells forms a malignant mass or tumour. Often, the cancer cells invade nearby tissues and may break off from a tumour to spread or metastasize to other parts of the body.

Types of Gallbladder Cancer

Cancers of the gallbladder are quite rare, and nearly all of them are adenocarcinomas. Adenocarcinomas are a type of cancer that originate in the glandular cells that line the inside of the digestive system. Other types of cancer can start in the gallbladder, such as adenosquamous carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas and carcinosarcomas, but these are extremely rare.

What causes gallbladder cancer?

Clinical practitioners and researchers do not know the exact causes of liver cancer. There are certain risk factors (detailed below) that can increase your chance of developing it; however, having one or more risk factors does not mean that you will definitely get liver cancer. On the other hand, having no risk factors also does not mean you will not get the disease. Liver cancer is likely to be caused by a combination of these factors, rather than just one.

What are the Risk Factors?
There are some factors that put people at higher risk of developing gallbladder cancer. However, being associated with a risk factor does not necessarily mean that you will develop gallbladder cancer.

These risk factors include

Smoking or excessive use of chewing tobacco

A family history of gallbladder cancer

Obesity

Pre-existing medical conditions, including

  • Cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder)
  • Frequent development of polyps (benign tumours of the gallbladder)
  • Porcelain gallbladder (a condition in which calcium builds up in the wall of the gall bladder)

What Can be Done to Lower Your Risk of Getting Gallbladder Cancer?

Evidence suggests that taking appropriate steps to avoid risk factors like smoking may reduce the risk of gallbladder cancer. Having a lifestyle that includes regular physical activity has also been linked to a decreased risk of gallbladder cancer. Being treated for polyps and cholecystitis in a timely manner may also reduce the probability of getting gallbladder cancer.

What are the Symptoms?

Early detection and diagnosis of gallbladder cancer is difficult as there are no characteristic symptoms during the early stages of the disease. However, there are signs associated with gallbladder cancer that can emerge as the disease progresses and starts to affect other organs. It is therefore important to remain vigilant of the known signs and symptoms of gallbladder cancer, which include

Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)

Persistent nausea and vomiting

Extreme weakness and fatigue

Unexplained weight loss

Loss of appetite

Fevers and chills

Pain in the right side of the abdomen

Darkened urine

Pale bowel movements

Itchy skin

Screening for gallbladder cancer

Gallbladder cancer may occur in both men and women. Gallbladder cancer is difficult to screen for and diagnose for the following reasons:

There aren’t any noticeable signs or symptoms in the early stages of the disease

When the signs and symptoms mentioned above do occur, they can easily be mistaken for many other illnesses

The gallbladder is hidden behind other internal organs such as the liver

Unfortunately, no standard or routine screening tests are performed for gallbladder cancer. However, if you experience any of the symptoms listed above or any other inexplicable change, make an appointment with your doctor for prompt evaluation. If you or loved one have a family history of gallbladder cancer, have an open discussion with your doctor about undergoing genetic testing or routine check-ups.

Diagnostic tests for gallbladder cancer

If you experience any of the symptoms listed above or your doctor detects any abnormalities, he or she may recommend follow-up diagnostic tests to confirm if cancer is present. Refer to this section for more information about diagnostic tests for gallbladder cancer. Read more

Staging gallbladder cancer

If your doctor confirms that you have gallbladder cancer, further tests may be done to study the cancer cells and determine

If the disease has spread beyond the gallbladder (i.e. determine the stage of cancer)

How quickly the cancer will grow

How likely it is to spread through the body

What sort of treatments might work

The likelihood of the cancer to recur (come back)

The stage of your cancer is a key aspect in determining your treatment. Refer to this section to understand your cancer diagnosis and for more information about how gallbladder cancer is staged. Read more

Treatment options for
Gallbladder cancer
The decision about the best course of treatment is based on these test results and the type, stage, grade and size of your tumour. Treatments like surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy are some of the options used for gallbladder cancer. Refer to this section to understand the types of cancer treatments for gallbladder cancer and possible side effects. Read more
Your cancer journey
Everyone deals with a cancer diagnosis and treatment in a different way. Refer to this section to understand various aspects of your cancer journey and the road to recovery. Read more
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