Gallbladder cancer information

Only one out of five gallbladder cancers are found before they have spread to other tissues and organs. Gallbladder cancer is hard to detect because the gallbladder is located deep inside your body, which makes it hard to feel or see during an examination.

There are no blood tests to detect gallbladder cancer reliably. For this reason, gallbladder cancer is usually found only when cancer has grown enough to cause symptoms. In some people, gallbladder cancer is discovered after the gallbladder has been removed to treat gallstones or inflammation of the gallbladder.

Because gallbladder cancer cells can be difficult to find, your doctor may use a variety of tests to diagnose cancer.

If you have questions about gallbladder cancer, utilize our 24-hour phone service, askSARAH. You can directly speak with an experienced nurse who can answer any questions you may have.

How gallbladder cancer begins

Almost all gallbladder cancers start within the inside wall of the gallbladder. As time passes, the cancerous cells grow deeper into the wall and push through the layers of the gallbladder.

The gallbladder has several layers:

  • The epithelium: thin sheet of cells closest to the inside of the gallbladder
  • The lamina propria: a thin layer of loose connective tissue
  • The muscularis: a layer of muscular tissue that helps the gallbladder contract, releasing bile into the bile duct
  • The perimuscular: fibrous connective tissue
  • The serosa: the outer covering of the gallbladder

Ninety percent of all gallbladder cancers are adenocarcinomas. Adeno means gland and carcinoma means a malignant (cancerous) tumor. Although these tumors are malignant, they normally begin from adenomas polyps that are not cancerous. The bigger the adenoma is, the more likely it is to become cancerous.

Six percent of all gallbladder cancers are papillary adenocarcinomas. These are also known as papillary cancer. These cancers have a better prognosis because they’re not as likely to grow into the liver or lymph nodes. A pathologist who looks at the cells in your gallbladder can spot a papillary adenocarcinoma because the cells are arranged in finger-like projections.

If it grows through the gallbladder wall, the tumor can invade nearby organs, such as the liver. Or it can enter the lymphatic or blood vessels in the gallbladder wall. This enables cancer to spread to lymph nodes, livaer and other body parts.