Gallbladder cancer is very uncommon. Women are more likely to have gall bladder cancer than men. The risk increases with increasing age. It is more common in patients who have stones in the gall bladder, the risk being about 1%. Other diseases of the gall bladder, such as, porcelain (calcified) gallbladder, choledochal (bile duct) cyst and chronic gallbladder infection also increase the risk of gall bladder cancer.
It’s not clear what causes gallbladder cancer. Most gallbladder cancer begins in the cells that line the inner surface of the gallbladder and is called as adenocarcinoma. Gall bladder cancer tends to spread to nearby organs and tissues such as the liver, bile ducts or small intestine. It also spreads to lymph nodes in the region of the liver. Ultimately, distant organs and lymph nodes can become involved.
Gallbladder symptoms usually do not cause any symptoms in the early stage. Most of the symptoms happen in the later stage. These include:
- Abdomen pain: Pain on the right side of the abdomen
- Feeling sick: This symptom usually occurs at the later stage of gallbladder cancer
- Jaundice: A condition in which your liver stops working properly or there is a blockage of the bile duct
- Swollen abdomen
- Loss of appetite and weight
- Gallbladder enlargement if your bile duct gets blocked.
Before any tests are conducted, complete physical examination of the patient is done. Later, the following tests are done to confirm the presence of cancer cells.
- Ultrasonography (US): This test helps differentiate people who have pain because of gallstones or gallbladder cancer. This test also helps to detect if the cancer has spread to the other parts of the body
- Computed tomography (CT): This test can help find out the growth of cancer inside the gallbladder or the growth outside the gallbladder. It also helps find out if the cancer has spread to the bile duct, lymph nodes or to the liver
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This test is good if you are planning to do surgery, as this imaging test allows examining of surrounding blood vessels and the bile duct passage
- Cholangiography: It is done either through the skin or the stomach. A technique that allows HCPs to not only establish a diagnosis, but to locate the blockage and place a stent through the blockage to help alleviate the blockage
- Routine blood work may also help your physician determine whether there is a blockage in the bile ducts and how well the liver is functioning. There are tumor markers which can be tested for in the blood, such as CEA and CA 19-9. These markers can be elevated in cancer of the gallbladder, but are not good for diagnosis as they are non-specific and other conditions can cause them to be elevated.
There is no way to prevent gallbladder cancer risk; however you can reduce the risk by:
- Maintaining a healthy weight by including fruits and vegetables in the diet and by regular exercising
- Gallbladder removal for people who have gallstones
- Preventing hepatitis may reduce the bile duct cancer risk and this can be done by safe sex, avoiding contacts with used needles etc.
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