Gallbladder cancer

Introduction

Gallbladder cancer is very rare, affecting about 660 people each year. It is more common in women than men, and is usually diagnosed in people over the age of 50.

Gallbladder cancer does not cause symptoms in the early stages. Later symptoms can include:

  • abdominal (tummy) pain
  • feeling sick
  • jaundice

The gallbladder

The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ that is located underneath the liver. The main purpose of the gallbladder is to store and concentrate bile.

Bile is a liquid produced by the liver that helps digest fats. It is passed from the liver through a series of channels, called bile ducts, into the gallbladder, where it is stored.

Over time, bile becomes more concentrated, which increases its effectiveness at digesting fats. The gallbladder releases bile into the digestive system when it is needed.

The gallbladder is a useful, but not essential, organ. The gallbladder can safely be removed without interfering with your ability to digest food.

What causes gallbladder cancer?

Gallbladder cancer involves the abnormal growth of cells within the gallbladder. Although it is not known why this happens, it is thought that certain things can increase your chances of developing the condition.

Aspects of your lifestyle, such as obesity, smoking and an unhealthy diet are believed to increase the risk of gallbladder cancer.

There are also a number of conditions that can increase your chances of developing gallbladder cancer. Gallstones, cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder) and diabetes, for example, have been closely linked to the development of the condition.

If you have a family history of gallstones, cholecystitis, or gallbladder cancer, then you are more likely to develop these conditions yourself.

Types of gallbladder cancer

There are many types of gallbladder cancer, depending on the cells affected. Over 80% of gallbladder cancers are adenocarinomas, which means that cancerous growth started in the gland cells lining the gallbladder.

Diagnosis

Your GP can examine you for signs of gallbladder cancer and may refer you to a specialist. Your GP or specialist will ask you about your symptoms and take your full medical history.

Initial tests to confirm gallbladder cancer include:

Treatment

The main treatment for gallbladder cancer is surgery to remove the gallbladder and possibly some of the surrounding tissue.

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are sometimes used as well, either on their own, or in combination with surgery.

As with all cancers, the chances of survival depend on the stage of the condition at diagnosis.

If spotted and treated early, the chances of living for at least five years after diagnosis can be good.

If, however, gallbladder cancer is only discovered in its advanced stages, the chances of living for at least five years after diagnosis are poor.

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