Gallbladder Cancer

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Published: 06th February 2017
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Gallbladder cancer is a relatively uncommon cancer. It has peculiar geographical distribution being common in central and South America, central and Eastern Europe, Japan and northern India; it is also common in certain ethnic groups e.g. Native American Indians and Hispanics. If it is diagnosed early enough, it can be cured by removing the gallbladder, part of the liver and associated lymph nodes. Most often it is found after symptoms such as abdominal pain, jaundice and vomiting occur, and it has spread to other organs such as the liver. The incidence of gall bladder cancer is increasing in China as well as north central India.

It is a rare cancer that is thought to be related to gallstones building up, which also can lead to calcification of the gallbladder, a condition known as porcelain gallbladder. Porcelain gallbladder is also rare. Some studies indicate that people with porcelain gallbladder have a high risk of developing gallbladder cancer, but other studies question this. The outlook is poor for recovery if the cancer is found after symptoms have started to occur, with a 5-year survival rate close to 3%.

Gender: twice more common in women than men, usually in seventh and eighth decades.
Obesity increases the risk for gallbladder cancer.
Chronic cholecystitis and cholelithiasis.
Chronic typhoid infection of gallbladder. Chronic salmonella typhi carriers have 3 to 200 times higher risk of gallbladder cancer than non-carriers and 1-6% lifetime risk of development of cancer.
Various single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) have been shown to be associated with gallbladder cancer. However, existing genetic studies in GBC susceptibility have so far been insufficient to confirm any association.

Signs and symptoms

Steady pain in the upper right abdomen
Loss of appetite
Weight loss
Jaundice and vomiting due to obstruction

Early symptoms mimic gallbladder inflammation due to gallstones. Later, the symptoms may be that of biliary and stomach obstruction.

Disease course

Most tumors are adenocarcinomas, with a small percent being squamous cell carcinomas. The cancer commonly spreads to the liver, bile duct, stomach, and duodenum.


Early diagnosis is not generally possible. People at high risk, such as women or Native Americans with gallstones, are evaluated closely. Trans-abdominal ultrasound, CT scan, endoscopic ultrasound, MRI, and MR cholangio-pancreatography (MRCP) can be used for diagnosis. A biopsy is the only certain way to tell whether the tumors growth is malignant or not.


The most common and most effective treatment is surgical removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy) with part of liver and lymph node dissection. However, with gallbladder cancer's extremely poor prognosis, most patients will die by one year following the surgery. If surgery is not possible, endoscopic stenting of the biliary tree can reduce jaundice and a stent in stomach may relieve vomiting. Chemotherapy and radiation may also be used with surgery. If gall bladder cancer is diagnosed after cholecystectomy for stone disease, reoperation to remove part of liver and lymph nodes is required in most cases. When it is done as early as possible, patients have the best chance of long term survival and even cure.


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