Gallbladder Cancer

Gallbladder Cancer
By Dr. Lee Ser Yee
Gallbladder cancer is rare and typically affects older people (age 60 and above). It usually responds well to treatment when diagnosed early and may arise from gallbladder polyps. Unfortunately, many people are diagnosed at an advanced stage.

What are the symptoms of gallbladder cancer?

Gallbladder cancer usually does not cause symptoms until it reaches an advanced stage and has spread to other organs and tissues. Some people may notice early symptoms such as abdominal pain or discomfort, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss, fatigue, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes).

What are the risk factors for gallbladder cancer?

Gallstones are the biggest risk factor for gallbladder cancer. These are hard, pebble-like formations in the gallbladder made of cholesterol and other substances. Gallstones are more common in women. This makes women twice as likely as men to develop gallbladder cancer.

Other risk factors include:

  • Old age- above 60 years old
  • Obesity
  • Family history of gallbladder cancer
  • Large or fast-growing gallbladder polyps
  • Chronic gallbladder infection (Chronic cholecystitis)
  • Porcelain gallbladder, in which the wall of the gallbladder becomes covered with calcium deposits
  • Abnormality or diseases of the bile ducts- e.g., Choledochal cyst, Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC)
How is gallbladder cancer diagnosed?

Gallbladder cancer is often discovered incidentally, when the gallbladder is removed to treat gallstones or another condition. Sometimes gallbladder cancer is found after a person becomes jaundiced or presents with unexplained loss of weight and appetite. It may also be detected when an imaging scan is done for another reason or from an abnormal blood test.

What are the treatments for gallbladder cancer?

Surgery is the preferred treatment for gallbladder cancer that has not spread and offers the best chance for a cure. The most effective type of surgery is a radical cholecystectomy, and this can be approached via minimally invasive techniques in selected patients to minimise pain and enhance recovery. In this procedure, a surgeon removes the gallbladder and the lymph nodes and tissues surrounding the tumour, including the adjacent liver if necessary.

Additional therapies such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or a combination of these may be recommended to treat gallbladder cancer that has spread to other parts of the body or to keep it from coming back after surgery.

Who should I see for gallbladder cancer treatment?

Hepatopancreatobiliary (HPB) surgeons are experts who are trained and experienced in the surgical treatment of gallbladder cancer. They will lead and coordinate a multi-disciplinary team including oncologists (medical, radiation), specialised nurses and allied health professionals to provide personalised care and up-to-date treatment. When appropriate, clinical trials investigating new and improved treatments for gallbladder cancer may be offered as well.

For more information, please consult our surgeon today.