Gallbladder Cancer: Introduction
Gallbladder cancer occurs when healthy cells within the gallbladder change and grow out of control, forming a mass called a tumor. A tumor can be cancerous or benign. A cancerous tumor is malignant, meaning it can grow and spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumour means the tumor can grow but won't spread.
This section is about primary gallbladder cancer. Primary gallbladder cancer is cancer that starts in the gallbladder, as opposed to cancer that begins somewhere else in the body and spreads to the gallbladder.
About the gallbladder
The gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ located just under the liver. It is part of the body's biliary tract, along with the liver and bile ducts. The gallbladder stores bile, a fluid made by the liver that helps to digest fats. Bile travels through the liver to the gallbladder through the intrahepatic bile ducts for storage. It is released from the gallbladder through a tube called the common bile duct as food is broken down in the stomach and small intestine.
The gallbladder’s wall is made up of 3 main layers of tissue:
Ø Mucosa: The innermost layer of tissue that covers the wall of the gallbladder.
Ø Muscularis: The middle layer of smooth muscle.
Ø Serosa: The outer layer of tissue.
Primary gallbladder cancer begins in the inner layer and spreads into the outer layers as it grows.
Gallbladder Cancer: Risk Factors
A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing cancer. Although risk factors often influence the event of cancer, most don't directly cause cancer. Some people with several risk factors never develop cancer, while others with no known risk factors do. Knowing your risk factors and talking about them together with your doctor may assist you make more informed lifestyle and health care choices.
The following factors can raise a person's risk of developing gallbladder cancer:
Gallstones. Gallstones are the most common risk factor for gallbladder cancer. These are rock-like formations of cholesterol and bile salts that can occur in the gallbladder or bile duct. Gallstones are the most common digestive disease in the United States. Between 75% and 90% of people with gallbladder cancer have a history of gallstones. However, less than 1% of people with gallstones develop gallbladder cancer. It is unknown why some people develop cancer while most with gallstone disease don't .
Gallbladder polyps. This type of polyp is a growth that sometimes forms when small gallstones get embedded in the gallbladder wall. Gallbladder polyps bulge inward from the inner gallbladder wall. Some polyps may also be caused by inflammation. Doctors often recommend gallbladder removal for people who have polyps larger than 1 centimeter because these are more likely to be cancerous.
Age. Most people diagnosed with gallbladder cancer are older than 70.
Gender. Women are about twice as likely to develop gallbladder cancer as men.
Smoking. Tobacco use may increase the danger of gallbladder cancer.
Family history. A case history of gallbladder cancer slightly increases a person’s risk of developing gallbladder cancer.
Gallbladder Cancer: Symptoms and Signs
People with gallbladder cancer may experience the subsequent symptoms or signs. Sometimes, people with gallbladder cancer do not have any of these changes. Or, the cause of a symptom may be a different medical condition that is not cancer, such as a stomach virus.
Gallbladder cancer is usually not found at an early stage because the gallbladder is located deep inside the body. Often, there may be no symptoms at all. Therefore, gallbladder cancer are often difficult to detect during routine physical examinations. Sometimes, gallbladder cancer is found unexpectedly after removal of the gallbladder for another reason, such as gallstones or infection of the gallbladder. When symptoms do occur, they include the following:
Ø Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
Ø Abdominal pain and cramping
Ø Nausea and vomiting
Ø A lump in the abdomen
Ø Itchy skin
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