Gallbladder cancer is any malignant tumor that forms in the tissue of the gallbladder. This is a rare condition in the United States. It is estimated that about 10,910 new cases have been diagnosed in the US in 2015, causing the death of 3,700 individuals. Please see gallbladder cancer statistics for more information.
The gallbladder is a small pear-shaped organ located beneath the right lobe of the liver within the torso. It is part of the digestive system and secretes bile, a yellowish-green liquid that is poured into the small intestine via the bile duct to facilitate digestion fats. This liquid is composed of cholesterol, bilirubin and bile salts (bile acids), in addition to water, body salts (potassium and sodium), copper and other traces of metals. Depending on the type of cells affected, the cancer can be called adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, adenosquamous carcinoma, and others:
- Adenocarcinomas– these cancers form in the gland cells that line the gallbladder. They represent about 90% (9 out of 10) of all gallbladder cancers, and include non papillary adenocarcinoma, papillary adenocarcinoma, and mucinous adenocarcinoma.
- Squamous cell carcinomas– this rare form of tumor accounts for less than 12.7% of cases of the disease. They generally develop from the skin-like cells that form the lining of the gallbladder.
- Adenosquamous carcinoma– histologically, this is a rare form of malignant tumor that affects both squamous epithelial cells and glandular cells of the gallbladder.
- Small cell carcinomas– also called oat cell carcinomas, these types of cancer have characteristics similar to those of adenocarcinomas. Small cells carcinomas are rare.
- Sarcoma of the gallbladder– this type of gallbladder cancer affects the muscle layer of the gallbladder; it is very rare.
Gallbladder cancer is a rare condition but the most common malignancy among cancers of the biliary tract, which is also a rare medical condition. It is account for 1 to 2 cases per 100,000 population in the US; however, Asia, South America and Eastern Europe are endemic areas, with a high incidence; unlike Western Europe, which has a low incidence of less than 5 cases per 100 000 inhabitants.
In half the cases, the tumor is discovered incidentally following a surgical removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy) performed for symptomatic cholelithiasis (formation and presence of gallstones in the gallbladder). It is estimated that cancer is found in 0.2 to 2.9% of cholecystectomies performed. In the other half of patients, the cancer is discovered after the tumor has advanced and cause clinical symptoms (symptomatic cancer) which prompt the patient to seek medical care: nausea and vomiting, pain in the right half of the abdomen, and others. For more information, please see gallbladder cancer symptoms.
Effective therapies are vital once the tumor is discovered. Immediate treatment of gallbladder cancer is essential to avoid fatal complications. The cancer may be responsible for intrahepatic bile ducts and lung metastases, making surgical therapy more difficult. In addition, the tumor may spread in the liver blood vessels, portal vein and hepatic artery; in the hepatic pedicle lymph nodes; or worst, in remote lymph nodes, making surgery almost impossible therapeutically. Therefore, during the assessment of the extent of the disease, all of these possibilities are checked to determine whether surgery is possible. For additional information, please see gallbladder cancer treatment.
As mentioned above, gallbladder cancer symptoms manifest until later after surrounding tissue and organs are affected. Thus, in most cases, the early stage is not accompanied by serious warning signs or symptoms. Theretofore, the wise move is to prevent the disease and fetal complications by keeping the organ healthy to prevent the cancer in the first place.
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