Does Gall Bladder Surgery Raise Colon Cancer Risk?

Studies Looking at Cholecystectomy and Colon Cancer Risk

Three surgeons performing gallbladder surgery
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Does gallbladder surgery raise your risk of colon cancer? The association between cholecystectomy (surgery to remove the gallbladder) and an increase in colon cancer was raised in some large retrospective studies over the years. What is the verdict? Is having gallstones or having gallbladder surgery linked with colon cancer?

The Concern Over Gallbladder Surgery and Colon Cancer

Studies before xxx specifically looked at the risk of colorectal cancer after gallbladder surgery and found a frightening association.

It appeared in those earlier studies that gallbladder surgery may raise the risk of colon cancer by as much as 56 percent.

Many alarming headlines were produced by a 2005 study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology that found that gallbladder removal surgery increases the risk of developing colon cancer. Researchers studied the records of more than 55,000 men and women in the UK General Practice Research Database. They found that those who had undergone gallbladder removal surgery were more likely to develop colon cancer, but not more likely to develop rectal cancer.

The researchers stressed that the increased colon cancer risk shouldn't be a deciding factor when thinking about whether or not to have your gallbladder removed. Fortunately, more recent studies have questioned - and largely disputed - and association.

Gallbladder Surgery Would Increase Colon Cancer

Whenever do we see an association such as that noted between gallbladder surgery and colon cancer it begs the question: Why?

Looking at colon cancer from another angle, researchers looked at the possible effect of gallbladder surgery on colon adenomas. One type of colon polyps, adenomas, are known to progress, at times, into colon cancer. In fact, this is part of the reason for screening colonoscopies. These precancerous adenomas, when detected, can be removed before they become cancerous.

In this study, there was no significant increase in the risk of adenomas in people who had gallbladder surgery or did not have the surgery.

Recent Studies 

A more recent review of studies was a big one, looking at 75 different studies and five previous meta-analyses. This study weighed how well the other studies were designed and the strength of their conclusions. Overall, the review found no clear association between cholecystectomy and cancer anywhere in the gastrointestinal tract.

They found inconsistent reports and no strong evidence for cancers of the small bowel and right-sided colon cancer being related to cholecystectomy. When looking at good quality studies, there was no association with cancers of the small bowel and left-sided colon and cholecystectomy, or of the distal colon and rectal cancers. The conclusion was, "This systematic review has found contradictory evidence of an association between a history of cholecystectomy and gastrointestinal tract cancers. Based on current evidence, there is no clear association between cholecystectomy and cancers of the gastrointestinal tract." They added that more well-designed studies should be done.

A 2017 study found that there was an increased risk of colon cancer in people who had gallbladder disease, but not in those who had a cholecystectomy.

Another 2017 study looking at gallstones which were detected on screening alone was linked with an increased risk of not only colon cancer, but pancreatic cancer, esophageal, and gastric cancers. No risk was found in relation to cholecystectomy.

Risk Factors 

Looking at all of these studies, you might be asking, "Is there something that might raise the risk of both gallbladder disease and colon cancer?" The answer is yes. Obesity is one factor that clearly raises the risk of both gallbladder disease and colon cancer. In some ways, this question may be similar to the link between eating ice cream and drowning.

Eating ice cream doesn't cause drowning to occur, and drowning doesn't cause people to eat ice cream, but other drownings and eating ice cream are both more common during the summer months when the lakes are open and ice cream is a cool treat.

Should You Worry?

The newer studies should calm fears about an increased risk for colon cancer following gallbladder surgery. But the fact that some studies found the association may encourage you to do some things to try to negate the risk a bit. Regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet and scheduling a colonoscopy are a few steps you can take. We are all at risk of colon cancer, gallbladder surgery or not.

This bit of knowledge is also one more piece of information you can give your husband, wife, partner, or parent who keeps putting off colorectal cancer screening. Who knows what further studies will show raises the risks you can't avoid? What can prevent colon cancer is getting screened and having pre-cancerous polyps removed if detected.

Bottom Line on Gallbladder Surgery

There are two bottom lines that arise from this discussion. One is that gallbladder surgery, though all surgery has risks, does not appear to raise the risk of colon cancer. In contrast, gallbladder surgery, when performed on people who will clearly benefit from the procedure, can save you a lot of pain.

Bottom Line on Colon Cancer Risks

While gallbladder surgery does not appear to raise colon cancer risk, there are other risk factors over which we do have control. Colon cancer screening is also important and has been shown to reduce deaths from colon cancer. The beauty of screening colonoscopies is that they can work both to prevent cancer from occurring and to find it in the early stages (early detection.) If a pre-cancerous polyp is found on a colonoscopy, the polyp can be removed before it has the opportunity to become cancerous. All other cancer screening tests we have at this time can only find cancer early (early detection) but cannot prevent the development of cancer in the first place.


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Coats, M., and S. Shimi. Cholecystectomy and the Risk of Alimentary Tract Cancers: A Systematic Review. World Journal of Gastroenterology. 2015. 21(12):3679-3693.

Shabanzadeh, D., Sorensen, L., and T. Jorgensen. Association Between Screen-Detected Gallstone Disease and Cancer in a Cohort Study. Gastroenterology. 2017. 152(8):1965-1974.

Shang, J., Reece, J., and D. Buchanan. Cholecystectomy and the Risk of Colorectal Cancer by Tumor Mismatch Repair Deficiency Status. International Journal of Colorectal Disease. 2016. 31(8):1451-7.