A small pouch-like organ located on the right side of the abdomen, the gallbladder is connected to the bile ducts under the liver. Although rare, gallbladder cancer is a particularly challenging disease. It often develops silently, with few signs until it reaches an advanced stage. Only 1 out of every 5 gallbladder cancer cases is discovered early before cancer has spread beyond the gallbladder.
The presence of gallstones may figure into the development of gallbladder cancer. Obesity and advancing age are other key risk factors. Additionally, gender plays a role, with women more than twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with gallbladder cancer in the United States.
Gallbladder Cancer Symptoms and Diagnosis
The signs of gallbladder cancer in the early stages are subtle, if not non-existent. As the disease progresses, gallbladder cancer symptoms may include:
- pain in the upper right portion of the abdomen
- unexplained weight loss
- jaundice (a yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes)
Your gastroenterologist will ask about your medical history and conduct a physical exam. Blood tests may be ordered to check on your liver function, as gallbladder cancer may cause liver disease. You may also need to undergo imaging tests such as ultrasound and CT and MRI scans.
Endoscopy may be recommended to visualize the gallbladder and obtain a biopsy to accurately diagnose your condition. These sophisticated GI tests include endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) and endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP).
Gallbladder Cancer Treatment
At NorthShore, we take a collaborative approach to treating gallbladder cancer. Through the programs and services of the Kellogg Cancer Center, our multidisciplinary team of specialists meets weekly to discuss each patient’s case in detail and to design a personalized cancer treatment plan. Patients have as part of their Kellogg team, experienced liver disease specialists (hepatologists) and highly-skilled endoscopists who are board-certified gastroenterologists with special training in using sophisticated technology to treat benign and malignant tumors of the GI and liver tract.
If caught early, gallbladder cancer often can be successfully treated by removing the gallbladder with minimally-invasive laparoscopic surgery techniques. Advanced stages of gallbladder cancer may require a combination of treatment options including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
For More Information
For more information on gallbladder cancer symptoms and treatment, or to schedule an appointment with one of our gastroenterologists, please call 847.657.1900.