Gallbladder cancer

Gallbladder cancer is a rare condition that affects the digestive system. It’s sometimes called biliary cancer.

What is gallbladder cancer?

The gallbladder is a small organ shaped like a pear. It’s located underneath the liver on the right side of your body. The gallbladder concentrates and stores a fluid called bile. Bile is produced by the liver and breaks down fat in the food we eat.

You can live without your gallbladder – it’s not essential for digesting your food. That means it can be removed without causing long-term problems.

There are several types of gallbladder cancer. The most common is adenocarcinoma, which develops in gland cells lining the gallbladder.

Other types include:

  • Squamous cell carcinomas which start in the surface cells of the gallbladder
  • Sarcomas of the gallbladder
  • Lymphomas of the gallbladder

Causes of gallbladder cancer

No one is sure what causes gallbladder cancer, but it’s more likely if:

  • A close relative has gallbladder cancer
  • You are overweight or obese
  • You have another gallbladder condition such as gallstones
  • You smoke
  • You work with metal or rubber
  • You’re over 70

Symptoms

Gallbladder cancer can be difficult to spot early on. Sometimes it’s only diagnosed when someone needs surgery to remove gallstones.

As it develops, warning signs can include:

  1. A swollen tummy
  2. Dark yellow urine or pale coloured stools
  3. Feeling (or being) sick
  4. High temperature (fever)
  5. Itchy skin
  6. Jaundice (yellow skin and whites of the eyes)
  7. Loss of appetite
  8. Tummy pain
  9. Unexplained weight loss

Having one or more of these symptoms doesn’t mean you have cancer but it’s best to ask your doctor for advice. The sooner your cancer is detected, the better the chances of treating it successfully.

Tests and diagnosis

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms. They may refer you to a specialist for more tests, including:

  • Blood tests
  • Scans, including CT, MRI or ultrasound
  • Endoscopy (camera test)
  • Laparoscopy (or key hole camera investigation surgery)

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