Gallbladder Cancer – The gall bladder is a small organ around three inches long and one inch wide located underneath the liver. The main function of the gallbladder is to store bile, a fluid that is made by the liver. Bile is stored in the gallbladder before it is released into the small intestine where it helps to digest food. Gallbladder cancer is thankfully a rare condition, but it’s worth understanding the symptoms and knowing what to look out for.
What Causes Gallbladder Cancer?
Doctors aren’t sure what exactly causes gallbladder cancer. However, like all cancers, gallbladder cancer starts with a mutation of the DNA that causes an uncontrolled, rapid cell growth. As the number of cells increases rapidly, this leads to the formation of a tumor or mass. When left untreated, the cells eventually spread into the nearby tissue and eventually to other parts of the body.
Gallbladder Cancer Risk Factors
There are several factors that can increase your risk of developing gallbladder cancer. Gallstones, which are small portions of hardened material that form in the gallbladder when there is too much bilirubin or cholesterol in the bile, may lead to inflammation of the gallbladder if they block the passageway out of the gallbladder to the liver, known as bile ducts. Chronic inflammation as a result of this is considered to be the biggest risk factor for gallbladder cancer, and 75-90% of people who develop gallbladder cancer have gallstones.
Symptoms of Gallbladder Cancer
Noticeable symptoms of gallbladder cancer do not normally appear until the disease has become quite advanced. Most of the time, the cancer is found by the time it has already spread to the lymph nodes and other organs. If you are concerned about gallbladder cancer, then a gallbladder MRI can help to detect it early. Ezra’s gallbladder MRI will look for abnormalities of the gallbladder, tumor masses, gallstones causing blockages, and other signs that could indicate gallbladder cancer, even if there are no noticeable symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they are often:
- Dark colored urine
- Vomiting and nausea
- Weight loss
- Abdominal bloating
- Jaundice, which causes yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes due to high bilirubin levels from the obstruction of the bile ducts
- Abdominal pain, often in the upper right of the abdomen
- A lumpy abdomen, which can occur as a result of the gallbladder becoming enlarged because of blocked bile ducts, or the cancer spreading to the liver.
Ways to Detect Gallbladder Cancer
In some cases, [gallbladder cancer] is found when a gallbladder is removed for various reasons. However, if you have symptoms, or are at a higher risk of developing [gallbladder cancer], then a doctor can run a range of different diagnostic tests. These include:
- Blood test: A liver function test can be carried out to get more information on how your gallbladder, liver, and bile ducts are working, and get more information on what may potentially be causing any symptoms you are experiencing.
- CT Scan: A CT scan may be carried out to get images of the gallbladder and the surrounding organs.
- Ultrasound: Using sound waves, images of your gallbladder and liver are created to get a better look. This is a simple and easy test to perform, so it may be one of the first you are offered.
- MRI Scan: An MRI scan shows more detail compared to CT scans or ultrasounds and may be ordered if you have had either of the other imaging tests and the doctor wants to get a closer look.
- Biopsy: If cancer is found, a biopsy involves taking a small piece of the tumor and inspecting it underneath a microscope to confirm if it is cancerous.
- Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography: A lighted tube with a camera attached is inserted through the mouth and all the way through to the small intestine. Dye will then be injected through a small tube that is placed in the bile duct, before an X-ray is taken to look for blockages and other abnormalities.
- Percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography: An X-ray that is taken of your gallbladder, after dye is injected to show any abnormalities such as blockages in the liver or bile ducts.
How is Gallbladder Cancer Treated?
Surgery to remove the gallbladder can potentially be a successful treatment option for [gallbladder cancer]. However, since all the cancer must be removed for the treatment to work, this is only an option when the cancer is detected early, and it has not spread to anywhere else. Unfortunately, since the symptoms of [gallbladder cancer] do not often show up before the cancer has spread, only around one in five people with this type of cancer will get a diagnosis when the cancer is only present in the gallbladder.
If surgery is not possible, then chemotherapy and radiation therapy are often the main treatment options. They may also be used after surgery to remove the gallbladder to ensure that all the cancer is removed. While these treatments may not always be able to cure cancer, they can be successful at treating the symptoms and prolonging life.
Gallbladder Cancer Prevention
Since [gallbladder cancer] has a lot of risk factors that are impossible to change such as your ethnicity, gender and age, it’s not possible to completely prevent it. However, there are several things that you can do to reduce your risk of developing [gallbladder cancer], which mainly involve having a healthier lifestyle. While healthy people can and do still develop [gallbladder cancer], you can reduce your risk of developing this disease by eating a healthy diet, exercising often, and maintaining a healthy weight. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables in particular can help to improve your immune system and help you stay healthy, reducing your risk of not only [gallbladder cancer] but other cancer types too.
The gallbladder is a small organ beneath the liver that can be susceptible to cancer. Although it is quite rare, it can be hard to detect before it has spread, which is why understanding the signs and symptoms, and how to prevent [gallbladder cancer] is important for everybody.