The gallbladder is a small pear-shaped organ situated below the liver on the right side of the abdomen. It stores bile, a dark green to yellowish-brown fluid, secreted by the liver. The bile duct carries bile from the gallbladder to the small intestine where it helps in the digestion of fat.
Gallbladder cancer is a rare disease that occurs when healthy cells acquire changes (mutations in their DNA) that make them divide uncontrollably and form a tumor. Cancer usually arises in the inner layers of the gallbladder and migrates to the nearby healthy tissues.
Stages of Gallbladder Cancer
- Stage I: Cancerous cells are confined to inner layers
- Stage II: Tumour has invaded to the outer layers
- Stage III: Cancer has spread to nearby organs and lymph nodes
- Stage IV: Cancer has begun to spread to the distant organs of the body
Early stages of gallbladder cancer are often asymptomatic. Signs and symptoms at advanced stages include:
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal bloating
- Weight loss
- Dark urine
- Itchy skin
The various risk factors include:
- Advanced age
- Female gender
- History of gallstones
- Bile duct problems
- Gallbladder polyps
- Certain infections
- Being of Native American or Mexican heritage
Your doctor will assess your symptoms and perform a physical exam. The following diagnostic tests or procedures may be ordered:
- Liver Function Test: Determines the health of your liver, gallbladder and bile ducts.
- Imaging Tests: Images of your gallbladder are obtained by performing CT scan, MRI, Ultrasound, etc.
- Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiography (ERCP): An endoscope is inserted into your mouth and advanced towards the stomach and duodenum (first part of your small intestine). A dye is injected and X-ray images are taken to study the stage of gallbladder cancer.
- Biopsy: A small piece of suspected tissue is obtained and observed under the microscope for the presence of cancerous cells.
Treatment depends on the stage of your cancer. Early-stage cancer can be cured by removal of the gallbladder (Cholecystectomy) and nearby tissue. Advanced stages may involve treatment options including:
- Chemotherapy: The use of drugs to treat cancer in the form of pills or intravenous injections.
- Radiation therapy: High energy particles or waves such as X-rays and gamma rays are used to kill or damage the cancerous cells.
Treatment may also include:
- Relieving Blocked Bile Duct: Your doctor places a hollow metal tube (stent) to hold it open.
- Clinical trials: You may participate in studies that experiment on new procedures or medicines to treat gallbladder cancer.
You may not be able to prevent gallbladder cancer but staying active and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce your risk of developing it.