Gallbladder cancer is a relatively uncommon cancer, but of the gastrointestinal tract cancers is the fifth most common. It is typically highly malignant and aggressive, and by the time a diagnosis of gallbladder cancer is made, the cancer is typically incurable, meaning that it has a particularly high mortality rate. Gallbladder cancer is most commonly found in particular geographic regions, including parts of Europe, Japan, and central and South America; incidences of gallbladder cancer are on the increase in China. Women tend to have a higher risk of experiencing gallbladder cancer than men.
The symptoms of gallbladder cancer typically don’t present themselves until the cancer is relatively advanced, but include a pain in the right of the upper abdomen, as well as weakness, loss of appetite, weight loss, and jaundice. The early symptoms of gallbladder cancer tend to be quite similar to gallbladder inflammation, and an incorrect diagnosis of gallstones might be made in these instances. Gallbladder cancer tends to spread quickly to nearby areas such as the liver and the bile ducts, the stomach area, and the duodenum.
Gallbladder cancer is usually diagnosed through what is known as a “staging” process that involves ultrasounds of the abdominal area, CT scans, endoscopic ultrasounds, and MRIs. Blood tests can also be used to help determine whether the cancer has spread to areas such as the liver, while laparoscopy can help with identifying small tumours that may have been missed in earlier scans. Depending on the information provided by these diagnostic procedures, treatment by way of surgery, or by way of palliative approaches may then be proposed to the patient.
Provided that the gallbladder cancer is detected quickly enough, the best way to treat the cancer is to surgically remove the gallbladder. The gallbladder is often removed in tandem with part of the liver; the nearby lymph nodes may also be subject to surgery intervention. However, given that by the point a diagnosis of gallbladder cancer is made and the surgery has been attempted, the cancer has typically spread to other areas of the body, resulting in a very poor likelihood of patient survival. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy offer very low efficacy in cases of gallbladder cancer, although radiation therapy can help slow the cancer growth. Palliative options include stenting to help reduce issues of jaundice or vomiting; alternative therapies may help to improve the quality of life for a gallbladder cancer patient.