Overview of gallbladder cancer
Your gallbladder is a small pear-shaped organ that sits just under your liver. It aids digestion by storing and releasing bile that the liver makes. Most gallbladder cancers start in the cells that line the inside of the gallbladder. It is a rare cancer in the United States.
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The gallbladder lies deep in your abdomen. This makes it virtually impossible to feel tumors as they develop and grow. As a result, gallbladder cancer is hard to find in the early stages. By the time people notice symptoms, gallbladder cancer has usually already spread to other organs.
When signs and symptoms occur, they can include:
- Abdominal pain or bloating
- Jaundice, a yellowing of the eyes and skin
- Lumps in the abdomen
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weight loss or loss of appetite
It is important to remember that gallbladder cancer is quite rare, and these symptoms are relatively common signs of other illnesses. Check-in with your doctor if you are concerned with your symptoms.
One of the most well-known causes of gallbladder cancer is chronic inflammation. Many of the risk factors for gallbladder cancer directly stem from conditions related to inflammation, like gallstones.
Other causes include changes in DNA cells. Scientists are still studying how DNA changes are related to certain risk factors, such as how cells divide to form cancers. DNA mutations can be inherited from your parents or can be acquired during your lifetime, which is more common than inheritance. Overall, the causes of gallbladder cancer are continually being studied.
Health experts have identified certain risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing gallbladder cancer. Some risk factors cannot be helped, while others, like smoking, can be changed. The most common risk factor is having. Gallstones are small balls of cholesterol that develop in the gallbladder and cause chronic inflammation. Others risk factors for gallbladder cancer include:
- Older age
- Chronic gallbladder inflammation
- Family history of gallbladder cancer
- Female gender
- Gallbladder polyps, or growths on the surface of the inner wall
- Mexican American and Native American ethnicity
- Choledochal cysts, or bile-filled sacs along the tube that transports bile from the liver and gallbladder to the small intestine
Having risk factors does not mean that you will develop this type of cancer, but you may talk with your doctor if you think you are at risk for developing gallbladder cancer.
Gallbladder cancer cannot be prevented, and most risk factors are traits that we do not have control over, like gender and ethnicity. There are steps you can take that could help lower your risk of developing gallbladder cancer.
- Maintaining a healthy weight. Being active, eating a healthy diet, and keeping within a healthy weight range will not only lower your risk for gallbladder cancer but all other cancers, as well.
- Remove gallstones. Because gallstones are a significant risk factor for gallbladder cancer, it is best to get them removed. However, gallstones are quite common, and gallbladder cancer is not, so it is not usually recommended that patients have their gallbladder removed unless the stones are causing problems.
The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.