Gallbladder Cancer: Introduction

What is cancer?

Cancer is when cells in your body change and grow out of control. Your body is made up of tiny building blocks called cells. Normal cells grow when your body needs them, and die when your body does not need them any longer.

Cancer is made up of abnormal cells that grow even though your body doesn’t need them. In most cancers, the abnormal cells grow to form a lump or mass called a tumor. If cancer cells are in the body long enough, they can grow into (invade) nearby areas. They can even spread to other parts of the body (metastasis).

What is gallbladder cancer?

Gallbladder cancer is when cancer cells grow in the gallbladder. It’s not a common cancer.                                                                                                                      

Understanding the gallbladder

The gallbladder is a small organ that sits just under your liver. It stores liquid called bile that’s made by the liver. Bile is part of your digestion. It helps break down the fat in foods you eat. The gallbladder secretes bile through a series of ducts into the first part of your small intestine (duodenum).

What are the different types of gallbladder cancer?

Gallbladder cancer can be one of several different types, including:

  • Adenocarcinoma. This is the most common type of gallbladder cancer. About 90% of people with gallbladder cancer have this type. It starts in gland cells. One kind is called papillary adenocarcinoma. This kind is less likely to spread outside the gallbladder and is easier to treat and cure. About 6% of people with gallbladder cancer have papillary adenocarcinoma.

  • Other types. About 10% of people with gallbladder cancer have other types.  These include adenosquamous carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, small cell carcinoma, and sarcoma. These types are not common.

When gallbladder cancer forms

Gallbladder cancer doesn’t cause symptoms in its early stages. But it is sometimes found early when an imaging test is done to look for gallstones. Gallstones are lumps of crystal deposits that can form in the gallbladder. Gallstones cause pain and other symptoms. In some cases, cancer may not be found until the gallbladder is removed because of gallstones.

When gallbladder cancer grows and spreads

Over time, gallbladder cancer can spread. The cancer cells can grow in the liver and in nearby lymph nodes.  Gallbladder cancer is harder to treat once it has spread.

Talk with your healthcare provider

If you have questions about gallbladder cancer, talk with your healthcare provider. He or she can help you understand more about this cancer.