What is gallbladder cancer?
Gallbladder cancer originates in the gallbladder, a small, pear-shaped organ below the liver that stores bile. Because cancer of the gallbladder doesn’t usually cause symptoms until it reaches an advanced stage, prognosis is often poor.
In fact, only about one in five gallbladder cancers is found in the early stages, when the cancer has not spread beyond the gallbladder, according to the American Cancer Society. Gallbladder cancer is not common and affects fewer than 20,000 people each year.
What are the different types of gallbladder cancer?
There are two main types of gallbladder cancer:
- Adenocarcinomas: About nine out of 10 gallbladder cancers are adenocarcinomas. These cancers start in cells that line the internal and external surface of the gallbladder.
- Papillary adenocarcinomas: A type of gallbladder adenocarcinoma, these cancers resemble finger-like projections when viewed under a microscope. They usually have a better prognosis than other gallbladder cancers.
What are the symptoms of gallbladder cancer?
Sometimes, gallbladder cancer symptoms appear early and can lead to early treatment. Signs of gallbladder cancer may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Unintentional weight loss
- Swelling or lumps on the right side of the abdomen
These symptoms can also indicate gallbladder stones, which are more common than gallbladder cancer. However, if you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to discuss them with your doctor.
What are the causes and risk factors of gallbladder cancer?
Scientists don’t yet know what causes stomach cancer. Research is ongoing, including studies considering how pre-cancerous changes affect the stomach lining. Certain conditions may progress to cancer, including:
- Chronic atrophic gastritis: This condition is caused by H pylori infection or an autoimmune reaction where the immune system attacks cells in the stomach. Some people with this condition develop stomach cancer.
- Intestinal metaplasia: Normal stomach lining is replaced with cells that look like the cells lining the intestine. It is not yet known why this change develops into stomach cancer.
There are many risk factors that can contribute to a stomach cancer diagnosis, including:
- Gender (more common in men than women)
- Age (risk increases over 50)
- Ethnicity (more common in Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, African Americans, and Asian/Pacific Islanders)
- H pylori infection
- Stomach lymphoma
- Diets containing large amounts of cured, smoked or processed meats
- Smoking tobacco
- Heavy alcohol use
- Obesity or being overweight
- Stomach surgery
- Pernicious anemia
- Type-A blood
- Inherited syndromes, such as BRCA1, BRCA2, and hereditary diffuse gastric cancer
- Family history of cancer
- Working in the coal, rubber, or metal industry
How is gallbladder cancer diagnosed and treated?
Most gallbladder cancers are not found until patients experience symptoms, which can often mean the cancer has progressed to a later stage. Some gallbladder cancer is found when the gallbladder is removed to treat gallstones.
To diagnose gallbladder cancer, your doctor will ask about your medical history and suggest a series of tests, which may include:
- Physical exam
- Blood tests
- Endoscopic or laparoscopic ultrasound
- CTor MRI scans
- Minor surgery (called laparoscopy)
Gallbladder cancer treatment depends on the stage of the cancer and your overall health. If you are diagnosed with early-stage gallbladder cancer, surgery to remove the gallbladder is recommended. The surgeon may also remove a portion of your liver.
Your doctor may also recommend chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or a combination of both therapies, especially if the cancer has spread to other areas of the body.
Gallbladder Cancer Treatment at Baptist Cancer Center
Gallbladder cancer is rare and life-threatening malignancy requiring specialized care and expertise. At Baptist Cancer Center, our multidisciplinary gastrointestinal tumor clinic provides our patients an opportunity to have an evaluation by a team of medical doctors with expertise necessary for treatment of gallbladder cancer. At the time of the appointment you may expect to be seen by hepatobiliary surgeon, medical oncologist and radiation oncologist as well other team members such as interventional radiologist, nutritionist, genetic counselor, social worker and others. Providing patients and families with the best possible care is important to us, so we offer the supportive services you need, from understanding your gallbladder cancer diagnosis and our leading-edge treatment options to navigating insurance and financial plans. Our team of medical doctors and specialists is dedicated to designing an individualized treatment plan to help you fight your cancer diagnosis close to home.