About Gallbladder Cancer
The gallbladder concentrates and stores bile, a fluid made in the liver. Bile helps digest the fats in foods as they pass through the small intestine. While the gallbladder helps digest food, you don’t need your gallbladder to live. Many people have their gallbladders removed and go on to live normal lives. Gallbladder cancers are rare and nearly all of them are adenocarcinomas, which means the cancer starts in gland-like cells that line many surfaces of the body, including the inside of the digestive system. Gallbladder cancer can be challenging to detect and diagnose at an early stage, making treatment more difficult.
Types of Gallbladder Cancer
Gallbladder cancer is classified according to the type of cells that are involved. More than 85% of gallbladder cancers are adenocarcinomas, which start in the gland cells(the cells that produce mucus)in the gallbladder lining.
There are three types of adenocarcinoma of the gallbladder:
- Nonpapillary adenocarcinoma develops in the gland cells in the gallbladder lining; this is the most common type of the three
- Papillary adenocarcinoma develops in the connective tissues that hold the gallbladder in place; this type is rare and less likely to spread to the liver or nearby lymph nodes
- Mucinous adenocarcinoma develops in the cells that produce mucin, the primary ingredient of mucus; this type is the rarest of the three
Other types of gallbladder cancers that arise from different types of cells in the gallbladder include adenosquamous carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and carcinosarcoma, but these are quite rare.
Symptoms of Gallbladder Cancer
Early gallbladder cancer can often cause no signs or symptoms.
Some of the more common symptoms to look for include:
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
- Pain above the stomach
- Nausea and vomiting
- Lumps in the abdomen
Risk Factors for Gallbladder Cancer
Native Americans and Mexican and Latin Americans are at higher risk for developing gallbladder cancer than other races, and women are 3-4 times more likely to be diagnosed with gallbladder cancer than men.
Other common risk factors for gallbladder cancer include:
- A history of gallstones
- A history of Porcelain gallbladder, a condition where the wall of the gallbladder becomes covered with calcium deposits
- Abnormalities of the bile ducts
- A history of gallbladder polyps
- A history of typhoid infection
- A history of primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), a condition in which inflammation of the bile ducts (cholangitis) leads to the formation of scar tissue (sclerosis)
- Older age, usually over the age of 60, though it can occur at any age
- Choledochal cysts, which are bile-filled sacs along the common bile duct
- Family history of gallbladder cancer
- Exposure to chemicals used in the rubber and textile industries
- Exposure to nitrosamines
Treating Gallbladder Cancer at UT Health Austin
Treatment requires accurate diagnosis and a care plan tailored to the specific type of tumor, the tumor’s location, and the overall needs of the patient. The different behavior of different tumor types helps drive decisions about treatment, which may include combinations of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.
Care Team Approach
At UT Health Austin, we take a multidisciplinary approach to your care. This means you will benefit from the expertise of multiple specialists across a variety of disciplines. Your care team will include specialists that are nationally recognized leaders at the forefront of their fields, including medical oncologists, surgical oncologists, radiation oncologists, advanced practice providers, physical therapists, social workers, dietitians, and more, who work together to help you get back to the things in your life that matter most to you. We also collaborate with our colleagues at the Dell Medical School, The University of Texas at Austin, and the Livestrong Cancer Institutes to utilize the latest research, diagnostic, and treatment techniques, allowing us to identify and utilize new therapies to improve cancer treatment outcomes. We are committed to communicating and coordinating your care with your other healthcare providers to ensure that we are providing you with comprehensive, whole-person care.