Gallbladder Cancer Signs and Symptoms or Lack of Symptoms

Gallbladder Cancer is Often Found in the Later Stages

Doctor assisting patient with severe abdominal pain
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What are the signs and symptoms of gallbladder cancer that you should know?

Gallbladder Cancer May Not Have Symptoms or Signs

Unfortunately, from a diagnosis standpoint, gallbladder cancer does not often have symptoms in the early, most curable stages of the disease. Many of the signs and symptoms of gallbladder cancer occur when the tumor is already in the advanced stages or when it has spread to nearby organs.

When gallbladder cancer is diagnosed early, it is often found incidentally. In other words, you may have a workup for an unrelated problem or condition, and a scan finds a gallbladder cancer that does not yet have any symptoms by itself. At the present time, only 10% of gallbladder cancers are found at a stage when surgery may offer a chance for a cure.

At the current time, there isn't a screening test for gallbladder cancer.

Symptoms of Gallbladder Cancer

When present, symptoms of gallbladder cancer may include:

  • Abdominal pain. It is estimated that about 50% of people with gallbladder cancer experience abdominal pain as a symptom. This abdominal pain is felt most commonly in the upper right abdomen.
  • Loss of appetite. A general loss of appetite often accompanies a diagnosis of gallbladder cancer.

Signs of Gallbladder Cancer

Signs of cancer differ from symptoms in that you and others may be able to visualize the condition.

  Signs may include:

  • Vomiting. Vomiting and a general feeling of nausea are fairly common symptoms of gallbladder cancer.
  • An abdominal mass. An enlarged gallbladder may indicate gallbladder cancer. An enlarged gallbladder is caused by a blockage of the bile ducts. The spread of gallbladder cancer to the liver may also cause fullness and a feeling of a lump in the right upper abdomen.
  • Weight loss. Unexplained or unintentional weight loss may be the first symptom of gallbladder cancer. Unintentional weight loss is a sign of an underlying cancer roughly a third of the time, and of cancers, abdominal cancers such as gallbladder cancer are responsible for around half of these. One study found that 40% of people newly diagnosed with gallbladder cancer had experienced unintentional weight loss.

See Your Doctor if You Have Any Concerns

Keep in mind that the symptoms of gallbladder cancer are also the same as those of many other non-cancerous conditions. If you are experiencing the symptoms of gallbladder cancer, please see your doctor for a proper examination and diagnosis.

Know Your Risk Factors

Since gallbladder disease is often found late, it may be helpful to know your risk factors. Some of these can be changed, whereas others may simply give you a heads up to pay attention early if you develop any of the symptoms above. Risk factors may include:

  • Gallstones - 3 out of 4 people with gallbladder cancer have gallstones at the time of diagnosis, but keep in mind that gallstones are common while gallbladder cancer is rare.
  • Obesity
  • Native American, Mexican American, Central European, and South Indian ancestry.
  • A history of sclerosing cholangitis or porcelain gallbladder.

Sources:

American Cancer Society. What are the risk factors for gallbladder cancer? Updated 02/13/15. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/gallbladdercancer/detailedguide/gallbladder-risk-factors

National Cancer Institute. Gallbladder Cancer Treatment (PDQ). Updated 01/14/16. http://www.cancer.gov/types/gallbladder/patient/gallbladder-treatment-pdq

American Society of Clinical Oncology. Cancer.Net Gallbladder Cancer: Symptoms and Signs. 08/2015. http://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/gallbladder-cancer/symptoms-and-signs

Kanthan, R., Senger, J., Ahmed, S., and S. Kanthan. Gallbladder Cancer in the 21st Century. Journal of Oncology. 2015. 2015:967472.

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