Table of contents:
- Main symptoms
- Possible causes
- How the treatment is done
- Staging of gallbladder cancer
- Can gallbladder cancer be cured?
Gallbladder cancer is a type of malignant tumor that originates in the cells of the gallbladder, which is a small organ of the digestive system responsible for storing bile, a substance produced by the liver and which participates in the process of digestion of dietary fats.
This type of cancer is rare and, in the early stages, does not cause any type of symptoms and, therefore, in many cases, it is diagnosed in more advanced stages, when it has already affected other organs such as the liver, causing symptoms like pain or swelling in the belly, or yellow skin and eyes, for example.
The treatment of gallbladder cancer must be indicated by the oncologist and is done with surgery to remove the gallbladder, chemotherapy or radiotherapy, to eliminate tumor cells and prevent their spread to other organs.
In an early stage, gallbladder cancer usually has no symptoms, however, as the disease progresses, symptoms such as:
- Persistent right side abdominal pain;
- Swelling of the belly;
- Frequent nausea and vomiting;
- Yellow skin and eyes;
- Decreased appetite;
- Weight loss;
- Persistent fever above 38ºC;
If these symptoms appear, it is important to consult the gastroenterologist or general practitioner so that it is possible to confirm the diagnosis and start treatment as soon as possible.
How to confirm the diagnosis
The diagnosis of gallbladder cancer is usually made by a gastroenterologist who uses some imaging tests, such as abdominal ultrasound, computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging to identify the development of gallbladder cancer.
In addition, the doctor should also order blood tests to identify tumor markers, CA 19-9 and CA-125, which are substances produced by the body in cases of gallbladder cancer.
Once the diagnosis of gallbladder cancer is confirmed, the gastroenterologist should refer the person to an oncologist for treatment.
The exact cause of gallbladder cancer is unknown, but some factors can contribute to its appearance such as:
- Age over 75 years;
- Gallbladder stone;
- Polyps in the gallbladder;
- Gallbladder infection;
- Chronic inflammation of the gallbladder;
- Abnormal bile ducts.
In addition, gallbladder cancer is more common in women, people who are obese or have a family history of this type of cancer.
How the treatment is done
The treatment of gallbladder cancer should be guided by an oncologist and usually includes:
Surgery for gallbladder cancer is the main type of treatment used and is usually done to remove as much of the tumor as possible, and can be done in 2 ways:
- Cholecystectomy: done for complete removal of the gallbladder when the cancer has not spread beyond the gallbladder and its ducts. See how cholecystectomy is performed;
- Partial hepatectomy: used when the cancer is close to the liver, it is recommended to remove, in addition to the gallbladder, a small portion of the liver;
In some cases, when gallbladder cancer is small, in the early stages, and the doctor is able to completely remove it through cholecystectomy, additional treatment may not be necessary.
However, when surgery is not able to completely eliminate the tumor in the gallbladder or it is in a more advanced stage, the doctor may also advise doing radiotherapy or chemotherapy to try to eliminate the remaining cancer cells.
Chemotherapy for gallbladder cancer can be done before surgery to reduce the number of cancer cells and make it easier to remove the tumor, or after surgery to eliminate the remaining tumor cells.
This type of treatment can be done with the injection of medicine directly into the vein, such as cisplatin, fluorouracil or gemcitabine, or, in some cases, it can also be done with the ingestion of pills, such as capecitabine, for example.
Chemotherapy works by preventing cancer cells from dividing and multiplying, but it also affects all normal dividing cells in the body, such as hair follicles or blood cells, which can cause side effects such as hair loss or decrease in the body's defense system increasing the risk of infections, for example. Learn how to alleviate the side effects of chemotherapy.
Radiotherapy for gallbladder cancer is usually used in more advanced cases of the disease, in which it is not possible to remove the tumor with surgery, to relieve symptoms such as pain, persistent nausea and loss of appetite, for example, and can often be done in combination with chemotherapy.
This treatment is done with the use of a machine, placed near the affected site, which emits radiation capable of destroying the tumor cells, requiring several sessions of radiotherapy, which can cause side effects such as itching, irritation or skin burns. Check out what to do to alleviate the side effects of radiation therapy.
Staging of gallbladder cancer
Gallbladder cancer staging is done by biopsy of a sample of the gallbladder taken during surgery and results may include:
- Stage I: cancer is limited to the inner layers of the gallbladder;
- Stage II: the tumor affects all layers of the gallbladder and may develop into the bile ducts;
- Stage III: cancer affects the gallbladder and one or more neighboring organs, such as the liver, small intestine, or stomach;
- Stage IV: development of large tumors in the gallbladder and in various organs further away from the body.
The more advanced the stage of development of gallbladder cancer, the more complicated the treatment, and the more difficult it is to achieve a complete cure of the problem.
Can gallbladder cancer be cured?
Gallbladder cancer is curable when diagnosed at an early stage and treatment is started early. However, in more advanced stages, when the cancer has spread to other organs, it is more difficult to achieve a cure and, in these cases, only palliative care may be indicated by the oncologist to keep the person comfortable and pain-free.