Gallbladder Cancer

Note: The information on cancer types on the ACRF website is not designed to provide medical or professional advice and is for information only. If you have any health problems or questions please consult your doctor.

  • What is Gallbladder Cancer?

    The gallbladder stores bile from the liver before it is passed into the small bowel. When food is being broken down in the stomach and intestines, bile is released from the gallbladder to assist food digestion. It travels through a tube called the common bile duct, which connects the gallbladder and liver to the first part of the small intestine.

    Gallbladder Cancer occurs when cancer cells form in the tissues and lining of the gallbladder.
    The gallbladder is made up of three layers. Primary gallbladder cancer generally starts in the innermost layer and spreads through the outer layers as it grows.

    There are several types of gallbladder cancer all named according to the cell that’s affected. The main type of gallbladder cancer is adenocarcinoma which arises from glandular cells in the gallbladder lining. About 85% of all gallbladder cancers are adenocarcinomas.

    Rarer types include cancers starting in the skin-like cells of the gallbladder, called squamous cell carcinomas, sarcomas of the gallbladder and lymphomas of the gallbladder.

  • Gallbladder cancer symptoms

    It’s important to note that a number of conditions may cause these symptoms, not just gallbladder cancer. A doctor should be consulted if any of the following problems occur:

    • Jaundice
    • Pain in the right side above the stomach
    • Fever
    • Weight loss
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Bloating
    • Unusual lumps in the abdomen
  • Gallbladder cancer treatment

    Before gallbladder cancer can be treated, it must be accurately diagnosed.

    Diagnosing gallbladder cancer

    Procedures that create pictures of the gallbladder and the area around it help diagnose the cancer and show how far cancer cells have spread within and around the gallbladder. This is called staging.

    Some of the tests used to diagnose gallbladder cancer include:

    • Ultrasound exam: High-energy sound waves (ultrasound) are bounced off internal tissues or organs and make echoes to form a picture of body tissues.
    • Liver function tests: A blood sample is taken to measure the amounts of certain substances released into the blood by the liver.
    • CT scan: A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, taken from different angles.
    • X-ray: An x-ray of the organs and bones inside the torso.
    • MRI: A procedure that creates a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. A dye may be injected into the gallbladder area so the ducts (tubes) that carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder and from the gallbladder to the small intestine will show up better in the image.
    • ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography): A procedure used to x-ray the ducts (tubes) that carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder and from the gallbladder to the small intestine.
    • Biopsy: The removal of cells or tissues so they can be viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer
    • Laparoscopy: A surgical procedure to look at the organs inside the abdomen to check for signs of disease. Small incisions (cuts) are made in the wall of the abdomen and a laparoscope (a thin, lighted tube) is inserted into one of the incisions.

    Gallbladder cancer treatment

    Different treatment schedules will be advised for patients with gallbladder cancer, depending on the extent and severity of the cancer. The most common options are surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

    A cholecystectomy, for example, is a surgical procedure which removes the gallbladder and some of the tissues around it. Nearby lymph nodes may also be removed.

    If the cancer has spread further and cannot be removed entirely, the following types of palliative surgery may relieve symptoms:

    • Surgical biliary bypass: During this operation, if the tumour is blocking the small intestine and bile is building up, the gallbladder or bile duct will be cut and sewn to the small intestine to create a new pathway around the blocked area.
    • Endoscopic stent placement: If the tumour is blocking the bile duct, surgery may be done to put in a stent (a thin, flexible tube) to drain bile that has built up in the area.
    • Percutaneous transhepatic biliary drainage: An alternative treatment to drain bile when there is a blockage and endoscopic stent placement is not possible.

Gallbladder cancer statistics

  • 413

    new cases are estimated to be diagnosed in 2022

  • 19.1%

    is the five-year survival rate for gallbladder cancer

  • 73.2

    years is the median age of diagnosis

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Cancer in Australia 2017, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

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