Gallbladder cancer is cancer that begins in the gallbladder. Your gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ on the right side of your abdomen, just beneath your liver. The gallbladder stores bile, a digestive fluid produced by your liver. Gallbladder cancer is uncommon. When gallbladder cancer is discovered at its earliest stages, the chance for a cure is very good. But most gallbladder cancers are discovered at a late stage, when the prognosis is often very poor.
Gallbladder cancer is difficult to diagnose because it often causes no specific signs or symptoms. Also, the relatively hidden nature of the gallbladder makes it easier for gallbladder cancer to grow without being detected.
Gallbladder cancer signs and symptoms may include:
- Abdominal pain, particularly in the upper right portion of the abdomen
- Abdominal bloating
- Losing weight without trying
- Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
When to see a doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if you experience any signs or symptoms that worry you.
It’s not clear what causes gallbladder cancer. Doctors know that gallbladder cancer forms when healthy gallbladder cells develop changes (mutations) in their DNA. These mutations cause cells to grow out of control and to continue living when other cells would normally die. The accumulating cells form a tumor that can grow beyond the gallbladder and spread to other areas of the body.
Most gallbladder cancer begins in the glandular cells that line the inner surface of the gallbladder. Gallbladder cancer that begins in this type of cell is called adenocarcinoma. This term refers to the way the cancer cells appear when examined under a microscope.
Factors that can increase the risk of gallbladder cancer include:
- Gallbladder cancer is more common in women.
- Your risk of gallbladder cancer increases as you age.
- A history of gallstones. Gallbladder cancer is most common in people who have had gallstones in the past. Still, gallbladder cancer is very rare in these people.
- Other gallbladder diseases and conditions. Other gallbladder conditions that can increase the risk of gallbladder cancer include gallbladder polyps and chronic gallbladder infection.