Overview

Gallbladder cancer is an abnormal growth of cells that begins in the gallbladder.

Your gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ on the right side of your abdomen, just beneath your liver. The gallbladder stores bile, a digestive fluid produced by your liver.

Gallbladder cancer is uncommon. When gallbladder cancer is discovered at its earliest stages, the chance for a cure is very good. But most gallbladder cancers are discovered at a late stage, when the prognosis is often very poor.

Gallbladder cancer may not be discovered until it's advanced because it often causes no specific signs or symptoms. Also, the relatively hidden nature of the gallbladder makes it easier for gallbladder cancer to grow without being detected.

Symptoms

Gallbladder cancer signs and symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal pain, particularly in the upper right portion of the abdomen
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if you experience any signs or symptoms that worry you.

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Causes

It's not clear what causes gallbladder cancer.

Doctors know that gallbladder cancer forms when healthy gallbladder cells develop changes (mutations) in their DNA. A cell's DNA contains the instructions that tell a cell what to do. The changes tell the cells to grow out of control and to continue living when other cells would normally die. The accumulating cells form a tumor that can grow beyond the gallbladder and spread to other areas of the body.

Most gallbladder cancer begins in the glandular cells that line the inner surface of the gallbladder. Gallbladder cancer that begins in this type of cell is called adenocarcinoma. This term refers to the way the cancer cells appear when examined under a microscope.

Risk factors

Factors that can increase the risk of gallbladder cancer include:

  • Your sex. Gallbladder cancer is more common in women.
  • Your age. Your risk of gallbladder cancer increases as you age.
  • A history of gallstones. Gallbladder cancer is most common in people who have gallstones or have had gallstones in the past. Larger gallstones may carry a larger risk. Still, gallstones are very common and even in people with this condition, gallbladder cancer is very rare.
  • Other gallbladder diseases and conditions. Other gallbladder conditions that can increase the risk of gallbladder cancer include polyps, chronic inflammation and infection.
  • Inflammation of the bile ducts. Primary sclerosing cholangitis, which causes inflammation of the ducts that drain bile from the gallbladder and liver, increases the risk of gallbladder cancer.

Gallbladder cancer care at Mayo Clinic

Dec. 02, 2020
  1. Niederhuber JE, et al., eds. Liver and bile duct cancer. In: Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 6th ed. Elsevier; 2020. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Aug. 5, 2020.
  2. Feldman M, et al., eds. Tumors of the bile ducts, gallbladder and ampulla. In: Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease: Pathophysiology, Diagnosis, Management. 11th ed. Elsevier; 2021. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Aug. 5, 2020.
  3. Hepatobiliary cancer. National Comprehensive Cancer Network. https://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/default.aspx. Accessed Aug. 5, 2020.
  4. Warner KJ. Allscripts EPSi. Mayo Clinic. June 4, 2020.

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