What you need to know:
- The gallbladder stores bile, a fluid that aids digestion of fat.
- Gall bladder and bile duct cancer develops when abnormal cells in these structures multiply and grow rapidly.
- The early signs may often be nonspecific and are common to many other conditions.
The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped pouch that lies beneath the liver, in the upper abdomen.
It stores bile, a fluid that aids digestion of fat. Gall bladder and bile duct cancer develops when abnormal cells in these structures multiply and grow rapidly.
It is a rare cancer that is hard to diagnose and is more common in women than men. Some of these cancer cases might be misclassified.
The early signs may often be nonspecific and are common to many other conditions, including non-cancer conditions. It can even be asymptomatic until later in the disease, with most patients reaching an advanced stage by the time of diagnosis. Also, when performing a physical exam, symptoms can not be seen or felt.
However, the symptoms that can manifest include jaundice, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, losing weight for no reason, itching, fever that does not go away, fatigue and white coloured stool.
The risk factors include primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), a long-term progressive disease of the liver and gallbladder characterised by inflammation and scarring of the bile ducts, chronic liver disease, bile duct problems present at birth, liver fluke infection, which can occur from eating raw or undercooked fish, old age and smoking.
If your doctor suspects this cancer, they will have you do the following diagnostic tests. Liver function blood test, tumour marker test that checks the level of cancer antigen, endoscopic test to examine the gall bladder and bile duct, imaging tests such as ultrasound, CT scan, MRI and biopsy that involves removal of tissue to examine under a microscope.
The treatment options include, where possible, surgical removal of as much cancer as possible. The other option is liver transplant.
Slow down progression
Chemotherapy can be considered as well. This is mostly used for people with advanced disease to slow down progression and relieve symptoms. Radiation therapy can also be considered.
The other option is biliary drainage, a procedure to restore the flow of bile. It can involve bypass surgery to reroute the bile around the cancer or stents to hold open a bile duct being collapsed by cancer.
Biliary drainage helps relieve the signs and symptoms.
There is no way to prevent this condition, but reducing your risk factors may be possible. Smokers are advised to quit. Reduce your risk of preventable chronic liver disease. Moderate your alcohol intake, and maintain a healthy diet and weight.