What is Gallbladder Cancer?

Gallbladder cancer happens when abnormal cells grow uncontrollably in the gallbladder. The gallbladder is part of your digestive system and plays a role in helping your body break down fat in the food you eat with a greenish fluid called bile that the liver makes (and which the gallbladder stores).

What Causes Gallbladder Cancer? What are the Risk Factors? What are the Symptoms?

Scientists are still trying to figure out exactly what causes gallbladder cancer, but we do know that certain things can increase your risk for gallbladder cancer. For example, age is a risk factor because most people who have it tend to be at least 70 years old. The disease is also more common in women than men. Also, certain ethnic groups seem to be more likely to have this condition. If you are of southwestern Native American, Mexican American, or Chilean descent, you stand a greater chance of developing gallbladder cancer.

Like cancers that affect other parts of your digestive tract, gallbladder cancer can be tricky to catch. That’s because people who have it rarely notice symptoms until the cancer reaches late stages (when it has spread to other tissues and organs).

Also, like some other cancers, gallbladder cancer often has signs and symptoms that are common to many other conditions. Here are some common signs and symptoms seen with gallbladder cancer:

  • Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin
  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Decreased appetite
  • Bloated or painful belly
  • Masses in the belly
  • Feeling tired

How is Gallbladder Cancer Treated?

Treatment options for gallbladder cancer include chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery and Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (or ERCP).

You are probably familiar with chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, so we’ll focus on ERCP. This option begins when a special dye is injected into the gallbladder. Then a thin flexible tube equipped with a tiny video camera takes pictures that allow the doctor to see where exactly the problems are – for example, if there’s a widening or a narrowing or blockage of the bile ducts.