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Gallbladder cancer involves the formation of cancer cells in the tissues of the gallbladder. This type of cancer is rare and doesn't have specific gallbladder symptoms, which makes it hard to diagnose.
The doctors and technicians at the UVM Cancer Center use advanced technology to provide accurate diagnosis and effective treatment plans.
Gallbladder Cancer Care at UVM Medical Center
We want you to be confident that you are receiving high-quality care.
- Diagnostic expertise - Gallbladder cancer is difficult to diagnose, which can lead to late diagnosis. We use endoscopy and specialized imaging tests to diagnose gallbladder cancer as soon as possible so you can begin treatment.
Gallbladder Cancer: An Overview
The gallbladder is a small sac found just under the liver that stores bile. Bile, which is made by the liver, helps you digest fats. Bile moves from the gallbladder to the small intestine through tubes called the cystic duct and common bile duct.
The gallbladder wall has three main layers of tissue: inner (called mucosal), middle or muscle (called muscularis) and outer (called serosal). Supporting connective tissue separates the layers. Gallbladder cancer typically starts in the inner layer and spreads to the outer layers as it grows.
The chance for a cure is good when gallbladder cancer is caught early. Unfortunately, gallbladder cancer is usually discovered at a late stage.
Gallbladder cancer symptoms often don't appear until the cancer is advanced, and are similar to those of many other illnesses. Gallbladder cancer symptoms may include:
- Upper abdominal pain, particularly on the right
- Abdominal bloating
- Loss of appetite
- Losing weight without trying
- Your skin and the whites of your eyes turn yellow (jaundice)
The exact cause of gallbladder cancer is unknown, but several factors can increase your risk of developing it, including:
- Gender - the condition is more common in women than in men
- Race - Native Americans are more likely to have gallbladder cancer
- Age - Risk increase as you age
- Gallstones - Gallbladder cancer is most common in people who have had gallstones, but it is still a rare disease
- Other gallbladder diseases can increase the risk of gallbladder cancer, including:
- Porcelain gallbladder - calcification of the gallbladder wall
- Choledochal cyst - congenital swelling of the hepatic or bile duct
- Chronic gallbladder infection
Gallbladder Cancer Diagnosis
Tests that look at the gallbladder and nearby organs are used to find and diagnose gallbladder cancer. Gallbladder cancer diagnosis can be difficult because the gallbladder hides behind the liver.
Doctors at The University of Vermont Cancer Center are specially trained in advanced technology to diagnose gallbladder cancer.
- ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography) - uses a dye to highlight the tubes (called ducts) that fill and drain the bile from the gallbladder. During ERCP, a flexible, lighted scope (called endoscope) is inserted through the mouth and gently moved down the throat, through your stomach and into the upper part of your small intestine (called duodenum). Then, a dye is injected into the bile ducts through a small hollow tube (called a catheter) that's passed through the endoscope. Lastly, the doctor takes X-rays of the ducts. Sometimes doctors use ERCP to take a tissue or cell sample (called biopsy).
- Imaging tests - Your doctor may order any of the following, which take pictures of the inside of your body:
- Laparoscopy uses small cuts to insert a tiny camera so the surgeon can see if cancer has spread from the gallbladder.
- Blood tests examine your liver function.
Treatments for Gallbladder Cancer
Gallbladder cancer can be cured only if it is found and surgically removed before it spreads. If cancer has already spread, other treatments focus on improving your quality of life by controlling the symptoms and complications of this disease.
Gallbladder cancer treatment depends on the stage and location of cancer as well as other factors such as your age, overall health, and personal preferences. Your team of doctors takes all of that into account with the treatments they recommend.
Gallbladder cancer treatment options at The University of Vermont Cancer Center include:
- Chemotherapy - Chemotherapy treats cancer by destroying cancer cells using different types of medication.
- Surgery - Surgery may be an option. It works best if your gallbladder cancer is in an early stage. Gallbladder cancer surgeries include:
- Cholecystectomy - This surgery removes your gallbladder.
- Cholecystectomy and Part of the Liver - This surgery removes the gallbladder, part of the liver and bile ducts when the gallbladder cancer spreads beyond the gallbladder.
- Radiation Therapy - Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams, such as X-rays and protons, to destroy cancer cells.
- Endoscopic placement of stents - When gallbladder cancer is advanced, sometimes it makes blockages in the bile ducts, which leads to further complications. Surgeons can use endoscopy to place a hollow metal tube (called stent) in a duct to hold it open.
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