Gallbladder cancer is caused by abnormal cells multiplying uncontrollably in the gallbladder, the organ under the liver that stores the bile (a digestive fluid) that is made in the liver. Bile helps break down and digest fats in the intestines.
Gallbladder cancer is rare, and is difficult to diagnose early both because the gallbladder is located under the liver and because the cancer shows almost no symptoms in the early stages.
The most common type of gallbladder cancer is adenocarcinoma, meaning the cancer started in the mucus gland cells that line the gallbladder.
Gallbladder Cancer Facts and Statistics
- In 2105, there will be an estimated 10,910 new cases of gallbladder cancer in the United States, 4,990 in men and 5,920 in women.
- Approximately 3,700 gallbladder cancer patients will die in 2015, 1,660 men and 2,040 women.
- Only 1 in 5 cases of gallbladder cancer will be diagnosed in its early stages.
- If found in its earliest stages, gallbladder cancer has a five-year survival rate of 80%, but that number drops to 8% by the mid stages.
- 85% of all gallbladder cancers are adenocarcinomas, and about 75% of those (or 6% of all gallbladder cancers) are papillary adenocarcinomas, named for their finger-like arrangements under a microscope. Papillary adenocarcinomas are less likely to invade the liver or lymph nodes and have higher recovery rates.
Symptoms and Risk Factors
Gallbladder cancer shows almost no symptoms in the early stages, making the diagnosis difficult. Doctors should know the risk factors for this cancer and should order appropriate tests for patients at high risk, especially if symptoms are present.
Risk factors include:
- History of gallstones—gallstones are solid deposits in the gallbladder that are made up of substances in bile, like cholesterol and bilirubin. Nearly 3 out of 4 people who are diagnosed with gallbladder cancer also have gallstones when they are diagnosed, but it is still rare for people with gallstones to develop gallbladder cancer.
- Being female—gallbladder cancer is more common in women than in men. The female hormone estrogen increases the likelihood that gallbladder cancer. and gallstones
- Being over 60—75% of all gallbladder cancer cases occur in people over the age of 65, and the average age of all gallbladder cancer diagnoses is 73.
- Having a personal or family medical history of gallbladder cancer or other conditions and causes of inflammation in the gallbladder.
Gallbladder cancer shows few symptoms. When symptoms are present, they are nonspecific, meaning that they are common to other diseases and conditions. Symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain on the right side, or pain in the upper back
- Gastrointestinal problems like bloating and heartburn
- Enlarged gallbladder—doctors may detect this during a physical examination or through scans
- Loss of appetite
Diagnosing Gallbladder Cancer
Often, early-stage gallbladder cancer is detected after removing the gallbladder due to problems with gallstones. Since the cancer does not show symptoms at an early stage, it is difficult for doctors to make a diagnosis.
If a patient is at high risk or is showing symptoms of gallbladder cancer, doctors may order imaging tests like CT scans, x-rays, ultrasounds, or MRI scans. Blood tests may be ordered without or without a tissue biopsy.
Doctors may also use tests that track the output of bile from the gallbladder. Dye is injected into the bile ducts and then traced with the use of radiographic studies.
Gallbladder Cancer Treatment
Treatment plans for gallbladder cancer will depend on the type of cancer, the location of the cancer, and the stage of the cancer (how much it has grown or spread).
If doctors believe they can remove most of the cancerous tumor, they may surgically remove part or all of the gallbladder. Doctors may also use radiation or chemotherapy to destroy cancer cells.
Lawsuits For Gallbladder Cancer Malpractice In Maryland
Proactive and effective medical interventions are essential in treating gallbladder cancer. While the disease is very treatable in its early stages, it is very difficult to diagnose due to its lack of symptoms. The prognosis, or outcome, of gallbladder cancer dramatically worsens with each advancing stage of the initial diagnosis.
It is essential that doctors know the risk factors and symptoms so that proper tests can be performed to detect gallbladder cancer. Most patients with gallbladder cancer also have issues with gallstones, and in the early stages, the cancer is often caught during surgery to remove gallstones or to remove the gallbladder entirely. It is important that doctors test tissue samples from these procedures for cancerous cells.
A delayed or failed diagnosis of gallbladder cancer can be fatal for the patient. Failure to diagnose is not always the result of negligence. But, if a doctor is negligent in understanding the patient's medical history, in recognizing risk factors or symptoms, or in ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests, a medical malpractice case may be viable.
If your gallbladder cancer has been mishandled by a health care provider, contact the offices of Gilman & Bedigian today for a free consultation. Our highly skilled attorneys are experienced in cancer malpractice cases, and are dedicated to getting you the results you deserve.