Gall Bladder Cancer
The gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ that lies just under the liver in the right upper abdomen. The gallbladder stores bile, a yellow, brown or greenish liquid made by the liver to digest fat. When food is being broken down in the stomach and intestines, bile is released from the gallbladder through a tube called the common bile duct. This tube connects the gallbladder and liver to the duodenum, first part of the small intestine.
Gall Bladder Cancer
Gallbladder cancer is a rare cancer. Most of the cases are unexpectedly found when a patient has surgery to remove gall stones. The wall of the gallbladder has 3 main layers of tissue.
- Mucosal (innermost) layer.
- Muscularis (middle, muscle) layer.
- Serosal (outer) layer.
Primary gallbladder cancer starts in the innermost layer and spreads through the outer layers as it grows. Gallbladder cancer is hard to find and diagnose early because there are no early symptoms. When symptoms do occur they are like the symptoms of many other conditions.
These are risk factors for developing gallbladder cancer.
- Gall stone disease (cholelithiasis)
- Chronic gallbladder inflammation (porcelain gallbladder)
- Gallbladder polyps
- Chronic salmonella infection
- Congenital biliary cysts
- Age, incidence increases with age
- Female gender
- Caucasian, Southwestern Native American, or Mexican-American
The most common symptoms caused by gallbladder cancer are right upper abdominal pain followed by loss of appetite and nausea or vomiting. Fever and bloating may occur. Jaundice, yellowing of the skin or eyes, may happen if there is an obstruction in the bile ducts.
The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on:
- The stage of the cancer (whether the cancer has spread from the gallbladder to other places in the body).
- Whether the cancer can be completely removed by surgery.
- The type of gallbladder cancer (how the cancer cell looks under a microscope).
- Whether the cancer has just been diagnosed or has recurred (come back).
Treatment options may also depend on the patient’s age and general health, and whether the cancer is causing any symptoms.
Gallbladder cancer can be cured only if it is found before it has spread, when it can be completely removed by surgery. If the cancer has spread, palliative treatment may improve the patient’s quality of life by controlling symptoms and complications of the disease.
Diagnosis and Staging
These tests and procedures may be used to diagnose gallbladder cancer and determine the stage of disease (extent of the cancer). The stage of the disease is important to know in order to make a treatment plan.
- Physical exam and complete history of health habits, past illnesses, and treatments.
- Ultrasound – a radiology procedure that bounces high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) off tissues or organs to form a picture called a sonogram. An endoscopic ultrasound is performed by a gastroenterologist (doctor who specializes in diseases of the digestive tract). A small lighted tube (scope) is passed through the mouth, esophagus, stomach and first part of the intestine. The ultrasound is done internally.
- CT scan (CAT scan) – detailed picture of the inside of the body taken by a special x-ray machine that is attached to a computer.
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) – a radiology procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make detailed pictures of the inside of the body.
- ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography) – a procedure performed by a gastroenterologist where a small lighted tube (scope) is passed through the mouth, esophagus, stomach, and first part of the intestine. A smaller tube or catheter is passed into the ducts, a dye is injected and x-rays are taken. If a duct is blocked, a small flexible tube (stent) may be inserted into the duct to unblock it. Tissue samples (biopsies) may be taken.
- PTC (percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography) – a procedure used to x-ray the liver and bile ducts. A thin needle is inserted through the skin below the ribs and into the liver. Dye is injected into the liver or bile ducts and x-rays are taken. If a blockage is found a flexible tube or stent is sometimes left in the liver to drain bile into the small intestine or to a collection bag outside the body. Tissue samples or biopsies may also be taken.
- Biopsy – the removal of cells or tissues to be examined under the microscope to check for cancer. Tissue can be removed during an ERCP, a PTC or during surgery.
- Liver function tests – blood tests that measure the amounts of certain substances released into the blood by the liver. Higher than normal amounts can be a sign of liver disease that may be caused by the gallbladder cancer.
- Laparoscopy –surgery to look at the organs inside the abdomen to check for signs of disease. A thin, lighted tube (laparoscope) is inserted into a small incision in the abdomen. Tissue samples (biopsies) may be taken. The laparoscopy helps determine if the cancer can be surgically removed or if it has spread to other areas in the abdomen.
Stages of Gallbladder Cancer
Stage 0 (Carcinoma in situ) – cancer is found in the innermost (mucosal) layer of the gallbladder only.
Stage I is divided into stage IA and stage IB.
- Stage IA – cancer has spread beyond the innermost layer to the connective tissue between the first and second layers or to the muscle (muscularis) layer.
- Stage IB – cancer has spread beyond the muscle layer to the connective tissue between the second and third layers.
Stage II is divided into stage IIA and stage IIB.
- Stage IIA – cancer has spread beyond the visceral peritoneum (tissue that covers the gallbladder and other organs in the abdomen) and/or to the liver and/or one nearby organ (such as the stomach, small intestine, colon, pancreas, or bile ducts outside the liver).
- Stage IIB – cancer has spread:
- Beyond the innermost layer to the connective tissue and to nearby lymph nodes; or
- To the muscle layer and nearby lymph nodes; or
- Beyond the muscle layer to the connective tissue and nearby lymph nodes; or
- Through the visceral peritoneum and/or to the liver and/or to one nearby organ (such as the stomach, small intestine, colon, pancreas, or bile ducts outside the liver), and to nearby lymph nodes.
Stage III – cancer has spread to a main blood vessel in the liver or to nearby organs and may have spread to nearby lymph nodes.
Stage IV – cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes and/or to organs far away from the gallbladder.
- Localized (Stage I) and resectable – the cancer is found in the wall of the gallbladder and can be completely removed by surgery.
- Unresectable (Stage II, Stage III, and Stage IV) – cancer has spread through the wall of the gallbladder to surrounding tissues or organs or throughout the abdominal cavity. Except in patients whose cancer has spread only to lymph nodes, the cancer is unresectable (cannot be completely removed by surgery).
Methods of Treatment
The standard surgery for gallbladder cancer is to remove the gallbladder, a wedge resection of the liver, resection of the extra hepatic (outside of the liver) bile duct, and resection of the regional lymph nodes. If an unsuspected gallbladder cancer is found after a laparoscopic cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal through a scope), more surgery may be needed to remove any remaining cancer.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells. There are two types of radiation therapy. External beam radiation uses a machine outside the body to send radiation to the cancer. Internal beam radiation uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. Radiation may be given in combination with chemotherapy. The way radiation therapy is given, or if it is given, depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping the cells from dividing. Unlike surgery and radiation therapy, chemotherapy is a systemic treatment that can reach cancer cells throughout the body. Chemotherapy is sometimes used along with radiation therapy to make the radiation therapy more effective.
Clinical trials, exploring ways of improving local control, may be available using chemotherapy with or without radiation.
This information has been reproduced with permission of the National Cancer Institute. For more information please visit their website at www.nci.nih.gov.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 04/27/2011
Copyright © 04/27/2011 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#6701
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