Gallbladder cancer can involve cancer of the bile ducts (cholangiocarcinoma) and regular gallbladder cancer. Both are relatively rare types of cancer and both have a poor prognosis. They are hard to diagnose due to their location and relative lack of symptoms until the disease is advanced. Gallbladder cancer is the fifth most common type of gastrointestinal cancer in the US and the most common hepatobiliary type of cancer.

Gallbladder cancer happens when there is chronic inflammation of the gallbladder from gallstones or just inflammation. If you have gallstones, you have a four to five fold increase in getting gallbladder cancer. More than seventy five percent of all of those with gallbladder cancer have gallstones. Other inflammation includes having a Helicobacter infection, a salmonella infection on a chronic basis, liver flukes and ulcerative colitis affecting the gallbladder. Certain medications can lead to gallbladder cancer and occupation exposure to chemicals like pesticides, vinyl chloride and rubber, along with exposure to shoemaking and paper mill industries can result in gallbladder cancer. Heavy metal exposure and radiation exposure (such as with radon) predispose a person to getting this type of cancer.

Certain hereditary syndromes can lead to gallbladder cancer. One of these syndromes is Gardner syndrome and others include neurofibromatosis type I and hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer. Abnormal biliary anatomy such as congenital defects of the ducts can predispose a person to getting gallbladder cancer. Spread of the cancer occurs into the liver or into the peritoneum. Half of all sufferers have regional lymph node metastases at the time of diagnosis.

There are about 9000 new cases of gallbladder cancer and biliary tract cancer each year. It is more common in older people and in women. The number of deaths per year is approximately 1250 for men and 2090 for women or about 3340 deaths per year. It is highest in incidence among Native Americans and Alaskan Natives as well as among Hispanic individuals. Within both groups, the incidence of gallbladder cancer is highest among women of these ethnic groups. Very few Caucasian men get gallbladder cancer, at a rate of 0.7 per 100,000 person years. Most people with gallbladder cancer are older than 64 years of age.

Survival from gallbladder cancer depends on the size of the tumor, the presence of lymph nodes and the presence of metastases. As most people are found with distant metastases, the five year survival rate of this type of cancer is about 15 to 20 percent.

Symptoms of gallbladder cancer can include weight loss, poor appetite, clay colored stools and pain in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen. There can be malabsorption of fats and dyspepsia.

The diagnosis of gallbladder cancer can be a plain x-ray of the abdomen but most likely involves a CT scan or MRI scan of the abdomen. An ERCP or endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography test can be done to outline the gallbladder and the ducts surrounding the gallbladder.

The treatment of the disease depends on the involvement of surrounding tissue and lymph nodes. Patients with localized gallbladder cancer and no involvement outside of the gallbladder are treated with a simple cholecystectomy or gall bladder removal. The five year survival rate is about 70-90 percent. If nodes are involved, the five year survival rate is about 45-60 percent. If the disease involves stage III (involving lymph nodes), the gallbladder cancer is not surgically curable. The one year survival rate for those who have advanced gallbladder cancer is less than 5 percent with a median survival time of 2-4 months at most.

While you must have surgical resection to affect a cure, it may be that medications are used to treat the gallbladder cancer. Adjuvant radiation therapy is also an option to get rid of residual cancer cells. It is not clear whether or not radiation alone with surgery can help save lives in gallbladder cancer. All patients who have tumor beyond the mucosa, however, are good candidates for external radiation. The mean survival rate is about 16 months. This compares to less than 6 months with surgery alone.

Chemotherapy is also used in gallbladder cancer. 5-FU therapy is recommended along with radiation and surgery in patients with this type of cancer. Other chemotherapeutic agents are used alone or in combination to try and kill off the existing cancer cells. In one study, gemcitabine and cisplatin together increased survival rate to 12 months as compared to 8 months if gemcitabine was used alone.

Medical Negligence Solicitors

Our gallbladder cancer solicitors operate the no win no fee scheme which is totally without risk. You only pay legal charges if the case is won. There are no upfront charges to pay whatsoever. If you would like to discuss your potential compensation claim with a specialist medical negligence solicitor just complete the contact form or email our solicitors offices or use the helpline. Once you have provided sufficient information you will speak with a gallbladder cancer solicitor who will advise you on the prospects of success for your claim and an estimated amount of compensation that may be awarded. Our advice is totally without cost and there is no further obligation to use our legal services. Do yourself justice and give us a call.

HELPLINE: ☎ 1800 633 634

The author of the substantive medical writing on this website is Dr. Christine Traxler MD whose biography can be read here