Gallbladder cancer is rare but it is the most common type of cancer of the bile tract. When abnormal cells grow uncontrollably, they are called cancers.
The digestive tract (mouth, esophagus, stomach, large intestine, and small intestine) plus the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas make up the digestive system. The gallbladder, which is linked to the liver and small intestine, stores bile. After you eat, your gallbladder empties bile into the intestine to help you break down your food, especially fats.
The cause of gallbladder cancer is not known. Most people who have gallbladder cancer also have gallstones. However, even if you have gallstones, the risk of getting cancer is very low.
Cancer in the gallbladder can spread to the liver and block the flow of bile, which causes many of the symptoms of gallbladder cancer.
There may be no symptoms. When there are symptoms, they may include:
During a physical exam, your healthcare provider may be able to feel a lump in the upper right part of your abdomen, just below the ribs. You may have special X-ray exams and a blood test. However, gallbladder cancer is difficult to diagnose. Gallbladder cancer may be found unexpectedly during surgery to remove gallstones.
If the tumor is only in the lining of the gallbladder, you need surgery to remove the gallbladder, the part of the liver touched by the gallbladder, and nearby lymph nodes. The surgery gives a chance for cure and can lessen symptoms.
If the tumor is more advanced and cannot be removed with surgery, possible treatments are:
You may be given the option to choose treatment designed just to relieve symptoms. This would allow you to avoid symptoms caused by chemotherapy.
If you have a tumor that is only in the lining of the gallbladder, you have a good chance of cure if your gallbladder is removed. If your cancer was large enough to involve the liver or local lymph nodes, then the chance of cure is lower and depends on the success of the radical resection.
If the cancer has spread, your chances of recovery are far less. Spread, also called metastasis, means that cells from the tumor in your gallbladder have traveled through the bloodstream and lymphatic system and have started to grow new tumors in other places in your body. If your cancer has spread, talk to your healthcare provider about your chances for cure.
Talk to your healthcare provider about any concerns you have about your illness and treatments. Ask about side effects you may have from treatments. You may want to make a list of questions at home and take it with you when you visit your provider. Ask a friend to go with you who can listen, too. If you don't understand something, ask your provider to explain it. Take notes if you need to.
When making a list of questions, you might want to ask the following:
It is important to eat a balanced diet, get plenty of rest, and follow the advice of your healthcare provider. It is helpful to lessen stress in your life and take time to relax.
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Since gallbladder cancer is a rare cancer of unknown cause, there is no known way to prevent it.