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What is Gallbladder Cancer?

By D. Jeffress
Updated May 17, 2024
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Gallbladder cancer is a rare condition in which cancer cells form and reproduce on the internal lining of the gallbladder. Physicians and medical researchers have not determined clear causes for the cancer, though it is most common in women and older individuals who have experienced gallstones or gallbladder inflammation. Individuals with gallbladder cancer may experience bloating, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal pain, and mild jaundice, among other symptoms. Cancer cells that originate in the gallbladder tend to spread quickly to other parts of the body, so early detection and treatment is vital to prevent larger problems. Oncologists might remove a tainted gallbladder, administer chemotherapy, or conduct radiation therapy to remove cancerous cells and promote recovery.

The gallbladder is a small organ that concentrates and stores bile from the liver, and releases it into the digestive tract to help break down fats. While the organ is not considered vital, digestive problems can arise when it is not functioning properly. When cancerous cells emerge in the gallbladder, they quickly spread across the organ and bile ducts. If gallbladder cancer is not recognized early, it is likely that an individual will suffer from liver and small intestinal cancer as well.

There are no clear symptoms of gallbladder cancer in its early stages, and most people do not notice problems until the cancer has started to spread. Individuals may experience significant abdominal pain and bloating, loss of appetite and related weight loss, and feelings of fatigue, weakness, and nausea. Jaundice can result when the bile ducts become obstructed and cause bile to back up in the liver. People with jaundice usually notice a yellow tint to their skin and eyes. An individual who notices any potential symptoms of gallbladder cancer should contact his or her physician immediately to make a proper diagnosis.

Doctors can check for gallbladder cancer in a number of ways. A physician usually conducts an initial physical examination and asks about the patient's medical and family history to determine the risk factors for cancer. The doctor may take x-rays of the abdomen, monitor an ultrasound, or use a magnetic resonance imaging device to check for tumors in and around the gallbladder. Once cancer has been detected, immediate treatment is necessary to prevent its spread.

The most common treatment for gallbladder cancer is emergency surgery to remove the organ from the body. A surgeon may also need to remove pieces of liver tissue or bile ducts that have contracted cancer. If tumors have already spread to other parts of the body, a patient may need to undergo chemotherapy or ongoing radiation treatments.

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