In this article, you’ll get everything you need to know about Gallbladder Cancer.
What is gallbladder cancer?
Gallbladder cancer is a rare disease that forms as a result of the growth of malignant cells in the gallbladder, the small, pear-shaped organ located on the right side of your abdomen. The gallbladder is beneath the liver, and its function is to store bile. It then releases this fluid every time you eat and digest food in your stomach and bowel. Cancer starts from the wall of the gallbladder, which consists of four layers. It begins from the inner layer and spreads towards the outer. A tumor that follows this pattern of growth is a primary one, meaning that it originated from the gallbladder, and it is not the result of a local or distant metastasis from another cancer. This article will provide essential information regarding gallbladder cancer, its risk factors, symptoms, diagnostic methods, and therapeutic approaches.
How common is gallbladder cancer?
Gallbladder cancer is rare. Statistics suggest that between 2007 and 2011, 3,700 adults presented with the disease in the US. About 2,000 people died from it. Women were more frequently affected than men. On top of that, two thirds out of all cases and deaths were women. Surprisingly, the highest rates of gallbladder cancer incidence concerned American Indian and Alaska Native people.
What are the risk factors for gallbladder cancer?
Being a woman and being Native American are the two most important factors that raise an individual’s risk of presenting or dying from the disease. Other parameters may include a personal or family history of gallstones, being old, being obese or having an unhealthy diet, being around carcinogenic substances at home or work, and having chronic infections or inflammatory conditions of the gallbladder. Although the disease is more common in those who had gallstones in the past, it is still quite rare. Gallbladder polyps may also increase an individual’s risk of getting the disease. However, having some risk factors doesn’t mean you will get cancer, but if cancer is about to happen, you somewhat help and ease the situation. Similarly, not having any parameters that raise your chances doesn’t mean you won’t present with such a type of cancer in the future.
Symptoms and signs of gallbladder cancer may start with jaundice
Symptoms and signs of gallbladder cancer may appear later in the course of the disease, and some may be the result of another condition. Unfortunately, there are no specific symptoms that indicate gallbladder cancer. Therefore, signs may overlap with the symptomatology of other diseases. Since gallbladder cancer is rare, doctors usually think of other medical conditions that have similar presentations, further delaying the diagnosis. Some of the most common symptoms and signs of gallbladder cancer are the following:
- Jaundice (yellow discoloration of the skin and sclera of the eyes)
- Nausea or vomiting
- Abdominal bloating
- Unexplained weight loss
How easy is it to diagnose gallbladder cancer?
It is quite hard to detect gallbladder cancer early. The reasons are many. First of all, early-stage malignancies are usually asymptomatic and do not bother the patient at all. On top of that, when symptoms appear, they are very similar to other medical conditions of non-cancerous cause. Finally, the gallbladder is not visually accessible as it hides behind the liver, making it difficult to observe with imaging techniques or clinical investigations. An accurate diagnosis, however, requires all kinds of tests and procedures, starting from simple history-taking and physical exam, to more specific methods. The following are some of the most commonly used diagnostic methods regarding gallbladder cancer:
- Physical exam, history, blood count, and liver function tests
- CT-scan, MRI scan, and ultrasound
- PTC (percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography), ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography), and endoscopic ultrasound
A combination of some of these methods will lead to an accurate diagnosis and staging of the tumor, which is a piece of essential information regarding treatment options and general management of the patient.
What is the prognosis of gallbladder cancer?
The prognosis of disease expresses the chances of recovery from it. Regarding gallbladder cancer, some factors seem to affect prognosis and the overall likelihood of recovery. The stage of the tumor is a very significant parameter that tells the doctor whether cancer spread to other tissues and organs. Another factor has to do with the possibility of total cancer removal by surgery and with whether it is a recurrent one or not. Finally, the type of cancer significantly affects its prognosis. Gallbladder cancer is curable only in its early stages when total removal by surgery is possible. If there are metastases, the disease is manageable with palliative treatment, which increases the quality of life and extends the life expectancy.
Treatment options for gallbladder cancer
Gallbladder cancer has three main types of standard treatments, which are surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. New therapeutic approaches are still in clinical trial stages. The following are the most common surgical procedures to remove a gallbladder tumor:
- Biliary bypass
- Endoscopic stent placement
- Percutaneous transhepatic biliary drainage
Radiation therapy can be internal or external, depending on the type and stage of the tumor. Finally, chemotherapy uses oral or injectable drugs that kill cancer cells by metabolic procedures. Keep in mind that all kinds of therapies come with potential side effects. Make sure you review your treatment options with your physician before you chose the most appropriate procedure or combination of methods for you.