Gallbladder cancer is an uncommon type of cancer that is mostly found in people above the age group of 50 years. However, there are chances though rare that the symptoms are detected in young children and adults as well. According to a recent research done by the American Cancer Society around 4000 gallbladder cancer cases have been diagnosed in the year 2015 in the United States. Even in India many new cases are being diagnosed but only a few counted numbers are detected at an early stage. This is because gallbladder cancer is a type of cancer that is detected only after occurrence of noticeable symptoms like vomiting, jaundice and abdominal pain. At a later stage of cancer, the treatment becomes a challenge as the cancer cells starts to multiply even in the nearby organs and may even prove to be fatal.
What is Gallbladder Cancer?
Gallbladder cancer is a rare type of cancer that leads to the formation of malignant cells in the gallbladder. It is a pear shaped human organ positioned right to the abdomen under the liver. The main function is to store bile that is secreted by the liver to aid digestion. When the cancer cells stats multiplying in the tissues it directly impacts the digestive system and leads to malfunctioning of the organ.
The Type of Cancer Stages:
- Stage 1: In the first stage the cancer cells are restricted to the wall of the gallbladder.
- Stage 2: In the second stage the cancer cells starts to multiply further in the tissues without any impact on the adjacent organs or the nearby lymph nodes.
- Stage 3: In the third stage the malignant cells are detected in the nearby organs and even in the lymph nodes near the gallbladder.
- Stage 4: In the fourth stage of this cancer, the malignant cells are found in distant organs and lymph nodes. This is known to be the secondary cancer and the most fatal stage.
Signs & Symptoms of Gallbladder Cancer
All the signs and symptoms of gallbladder are common symptoms that may arise due to other health conditions as well. With this it makes it difficult to judge whether the symptoms are due to cancer or some other reason. Hence, if these symptoms are detected it becomes important to see a doctor and confirm the causes of the existing signs and symptoms.
Some of the most noticeable symptoms of gallbladder cancer are:
- Abdominal pain
- Lumps in the stomach
- Decreased appetite
- Sudden weight loss
- High fever
- Skin itchiness
- Change in urine color to dark yellow or brown
- Change in the stool structure to greasy stools
Types of Gallbladder Cancer
There are many types of gallbladder cancer and the most known ones are:
- Adenocarcinoma: This is one of the most common types that start mainly in the cells that form the covering of the digestive organs. This type accounts for almost 90 to 95 percent of the gallbladder cancer cases.
- apillary Adenocarcinoma: This type is restricted to the organ and less likely to spread further to the nearby organs or the lymph nodes.
- Squamous Cell Cancer: This type occurs in the cells that form a skin like covering of the gallbladder.
- Adenosquamous Cancer: This type is a combination of squamous cell cancer and glandular cell cancer.
- Small Cell Cancer: This type of cancer occurs as an oat shape structure in the tissues of the gallbladder.
- Sarcoma: This type of cancer occurs in the muscle layer of the organ with its impact on all connective tissues of the body.
- Neuroendocrine Tumour: This type of tumour mainly occurs in the digestive tract from body tissues that produce hormones.
How is Gallbladder Cancer Diagnosed?
Once the gallbladder cancer symptoms become noticeable and there are any doubts related to health, it is important to undergo a complete health check up under expert advice and guidance. Doctors and specialists undergo a variety of blood tests and scans to accurately diagnose gallbladder cancer.
Some of the most common methods of diagnosis are:
- Ultrasound Scan: This gives a clear picture of the gallbladder that helps doctors to reveal the cancer symptoms. A transparent gel is applied on the abdomen before taking the scan.
- CT Scan: This gives a three dimensional picture with the use of radiations to make the picture clearer and better. An injection is given to spread a clear liquid across the body for improved imaging.
- Spiral CT Scan: With this the picture of the gallbladder becomes further clearer as it gives a cross-sectional image of the body.
- MRI Scan: This is magnetic resonance imaging scan that uses magnetism to deliver an actual image of the organ with detailed structure. No metals, jewelery or any other materials that are magnetic are allowed during this scan.
- ERCP: This is endoscopic retrograde cholangio-pancreatography that is used to take a perfect image of the bile duct and the pancreatic duct to get clear pictures of the existence of cancer cells. This is done under a sedative or a local anesthesia after which an endoscope or a large flexible tube is passed to the stomach through the mouth. Further an X ray dye is injected to make organs more visible and understand any kind of malfunctioning or abnormality.
- EUS: This diagnosis is known as endoscopic ultrasound that uses an ultrasound probe to take a complete scan of the gallbladder and the surrounding tissues and organs.
- Angiogram: This form of test is done to check the functioning of the blood vessels and study whether these are affected by the cancer cells.
- Laparoscopy: This is mainly a surgery but to confirm the diagnosis of gallbladder cancer, doctors sometimes opt for this method. In this method a small incision is made through which a small camera is inserted into the body to take out a small tissue for examination.
- Laparotomy: If a confirm diagnosis is not done through any of the tests, then doctors opt to go for laparotomy. In this procedure doctors give general anesthetic and make a small cut in the abdomen area. Through this cut medical instruments are inserted to examine the organ and the surrounding tissues. At times this can also be used as a treatment for gallbladder cancer.
What is the Treatment for Gallbladder Cancer?
Gallbladder cancer treatment purely depends on the stage of cancer. Doctors rightfully examine the patients to understand the symptoms, stage of cancer and the overall physical state of the patient. After complete analysis and confirmation, they take an initiative to go with the right treatment.
Common treatments For Gallbladder Cancer
- Surgery: When a gallbladder cancer is detected the very first stage of treatment is to remove the gallbladder through surgery. If in case it is detected that the cancer has spread further then surgery is done through radical cholecystectomy.
- Radiotherapy: In this form of treatment high energy radiations are used to kill all cancer cells using a radiotherapy machine externally or by positioning a radioactive material close to the malignant cell internally.
- Chemotherapy: In this form of treatment a drug known as cytotoxic is used to destroy all cancer cells. This is an anti-cancer drug and is mainly put into use when surgery fails to remove all the existing malignant cells while removing the gallbladder. This usually works to either shrink the size of the cancer cells or slow down their growth rather than completely killing these fatal cells.
- Stent Insertion: In this form of gallbladder cancer treatment, a stent is inserted to clear the blockage caused in the bile duct because of these malignant cells. This in turn allows the bile to drain away completely and help relieve jaundice.
- Immunotherapy: This is a new introduction in the list of gallbladder cancer treatments. Also known as the biologic therapy, this treatment works to boost the immune system of the body using foreign materials so as to make the body capable to fight against cancer.
- Gene Therapy: This is an experimental treatment that introduces genetic material to the human body that works to treat cancer. Though the treatment is still under discussion, it has shown its significance during clinical trials.
Gallbladder Cancer Survival Rate
In a study done by the American College of Surgeons years ago it has been revealed that around 10,000 gallbladder cancer patients have been treated from 1989 to 1996. Further to this, it is believed that these patients survive for about 4 to 5 years from the detection of cancer. Though the cancer is unable to be diagnosed at an early stage, the survival rate has gone down the death rate. It is believed that if a research on five year survival rate is done, patients in stage 0 have a survival rate of 80%, those in stage 1 have a survival rate of 50%, patients detected with cancer in stage 2 have a survival rate of 30%, those with stage 3 cancer have a survival rate of 7% and those found with stage 4 gallbladder cancer have a survival rate of only 2%. With this statistics, it is clear that patients suffering from gallbladder cancer have a overall low survival rate because of late detection of symptoms.
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