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Gallbladder cancer is a relatively uncommon cancer. It has peculiar geographical distribution being common in central and South America, central and eastern Europe, Japan and northern India; it is also common in certain ethnic groups e.g. Native American Indians and Hispanics. If it is diagnosed early enough, it can be cured by removing the gallbladder, part of the liver and associated lymph nodes. Most often it is found after symptoms such as abdominal pain, jaundice and vomiting occur, and it has spread to other organs such as the liver.
It is a rare cancer that is thought to be related to gallstones building up, which also can lead to calcification of the gallbladder, a condition known as porcelain gallbladder. Porcelain gallbladder is also rare. Some studies indicate that people with porcelain gallbladder have a high risk of developing gallbladder cancer, but other studies question this. The outlook is poor for recovery if the cancer is found after symptoms have started to occur, with a 5-year survival rate close to 3%.
Signs and symptoms
Steady pain in the upper right abdomen
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Jaundice and vomiting due to obstruction
Early symptoms mimic gallbladder inflammation due to gallstones. Later, the symptoms may be that of biliary and stomach obstruction.
- Gender—approx. twice more common in women than men, usually in seventh and eighth decades.
- Obesity increases the risk for gallbladder cancer.
- Chronic cholecystitis and cholelithiasis.
- Chronic typhoid infection of gallbladder. Chronic Salmonella typhi carriers have 3 to 200 times higher risk of gallbladder cancer than non-carriers and 1–6% lifetime risk of development of cancer.
- Various single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) have been shown to be associated with gallbladder cancer. However, existing genetic studies in GBC susceptibility have so far been insufficient to confirm any association.
Early diagnosis is not generally possible. People at high risk, such as women or Native Americans with gallstones, are evaluated closely. Transabdominal ultrasound, CT scan, endoscopic ultrasound, MRI, and MR cholangio-pancreatography (MRCP) can be used for diagnosis. A biopsy is the only certain way to tell whether the tumorous growth is malignant or not.
Xanthogranulomatous cholecystitis (XGC) is a rare form of gallbladder disease which mimics gallbladder cancer although it is not cancerous. It was first discovered and reported in the medical literature in 1976 by J.J. McCoy, Jr., and colleagues.
The most common and most effective treatment is surgical removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy) with part of liver and lymph node dissection. However, with gallbladder cancer’s extremely poor prognosis, most patients will die within a year of surgery. If surgery is not possible, endoscopic stenting of the biliary tree can reduce jaundice and a stent in stomach may relieve vomiting. Chemotherapy and radiation may also be used with surgery. If gall bladder cancer is diagnosed after cholecystectomy for stone disease (incidental cancer), reoperation to remove part of liver and lymph nodes is required in most cases. When it is done as early as possible, patients have the best chance of long-term survival and even cure.
The cancer commonly spreads to the liver, bile duct, stomach, and duodenum.