Gallbladder cancer is a disease whereby cancer cells are found in the tissues of a gallbladder. It often arises as a result of chronic inflammation. The gallbladder is found in the upper quadrant of the abdomen under the liver. Its task is to store bile, a fluid made by the liver to digest fat.
Signs and Symptoms of Cancer of the Gallbladder
In its early stages, gallbladder cancer usually doesn’t present any obvious symptoms. However, as it progresses, symptoms may include:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Pain in the abdomen
- Dark urine
- Lumps in the belly
- Loss of appetite
- Itchy skin
- Nausea and vomiting
Causes of Gallbladder Cancer
According to specialists, it’s not clear what causes gallbladder cancer. However, they indicate that it forms when healthy gallbladder cells undergo transformations in their deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA).
A cell’s DNA contains specific orders which instruct a cell what to do. In the case of gallbladder cancer, the changes instruct the cells to develop out of control and continue living instead of normally dying. The accumulation of cells form a tumor which can grow and spread beyond the gallbladder to other areas of the body.
Risk Factors of Cancer of the Gallbladder
- Age: A person is at great risk of cancer as he/she advances in age.
- A history of gallstones: For people who have or have had gallstones in the past, gallbladder cancer is common among them.
- Other gallbladder diseases and conditions: Polyps, chronic inflammation, and infections are some of the gallbladder conditions that increase the risk of gallbladder cancer.
- A person’s sex: Gallbladder cancer is more common in women.
- Inflammation of the bile ducts: This can be caused by primary sclerosing cholangitis (inflammation of gallbladder bile ducts).
Diagnosis of Gallbladder Cancer
To get a definitive diagnosis of gallbladder cancer the specialist uses a variety of testing tools designed to evaluate the disease, and develop an individualized treatment. During the treatment, they use imaging and laboratory tests to monitor the patient’s response to treatment and modify the plan if need needed.
If an individual experiences symptom that are apprehensive, then there are reasons to think one could be suffering from gallbladder cancer. Thus, the doctor might use the following physical methods to do the exam:
- The doctor checks various lymph nodes especially those near the shoulders as cancer may spread to these areas
- Signs of jaundice which is yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes are checked
- The doctor may feel around the patient’s belly to determine whether there are suspicious lumps or swelling
- The patient may be asked if he/she feels any pain or tenderness as the doctor presses down on different areas of the abdomen
A blood test is done to determine the level of bilirubin as it is the chemical that makes bile yellow. High levels of bilirubin may indicate a problem with either gallbladder or the liver. Blood tests can also be used to detect other markers like alkaline phosphate, albumin, AST, ALT, and GGT.
An ultrasound transducer is used to perform this procedure on the skin over the abdomen. At times the doctor may perform an endoscopic or laparoscopic ultrasound. The ultrasound device is attached to a tube which has a camera and inserted through the mouth. The doctor monitors the organs from a screen.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Scan
An MRI scan is used to examine soft tissues within the body. While diagnosing gallbladder cancer, the procedure will reveal the condition of the gallbladder and surrounding area. MRI may also be used to determine the size of the tumor (if present) and if the cancer has spread beyond the gallbladder.
A standard x-ray of the chest is performed to see if cancer has spread to the lungs.
Treatment of Gallbladder Cancer
At King’s our specialists use a multidisciplinary approach to curate an overall treatment plan that consists of different types of treatments and therapies. The team of specialists for gallbladder cancer treatment may include a gastroenterologist, a general surgeon, an oncologist, and a radiation oncologist.
The other cancer care team could include other health care professionals, like physician assistants, nurse practitioners, oncology nurses, social workers, pharmacists, counselors, dietitians, and more.
It is important to note that the treatment options and recommendations depend on several ket factors including: the cancer stage, the type of cancer, the patient’s family history of cancer, possible side effects, and preferences and overall health of the patient.
The treatment procedures for gallbladder cancer include:
- Surgery: This procedure can be done by a general surgeon, surgical oncologist, or hepatobiliary surgeon. The surgery is meant to remove the tumor and some surrounding healthy tissue during an operation.
- Radiotherapy: This is a procedure that involves the use of high-energy x-rays to destroy cancer cells. The most common type of radiation treatment for gallbladder cancer is known as external-beam therapy.
- Chemotherapy: This uses specific medications to destroy cancer cells, usually by preventing the cancer cells from growing, dividing, and making more cells. A chemotherapy schedule consists of a specific number of cycles given over a set period and an individual might receive one drug at a time or a combination of different drugs given at the same time.
- Immunotherapy: Also known as biogenic therapy, this is produced by the body’s natural defense system to fight cancer. The procedure uses materials made either by the body or in a laboratory to improve immune system function.
- Therapies using medication: Systemic therapy is the use of specialized medication to destroy cancer cells. The medications are administered via the bloodstream in order to reach the present cancer cells throughout the body.