Reviewed by: Annie Angle cancer nurse, Diploma Oncology Nursing, Royal Marsden, London
On this page: What's the gallbladder? ι What's gallbladder cancer? ι Types ι How common is it? ι Risks and causes ι Symptoms
What's the gallbladder?
The gallbladder is a ‘bag' (like the bladder). It stores bile from the liver before it's passed into the small bowel, where the bile helps to digest food.
What's gallbladder cancer?
Gallbladder cancer is cancer that affects the gallbladder. It's sometimes found when the gallbladder is removed surgically for another reason.
Types of gallbladder cancer
There are several types of gallbladder cancer. There's more than one type because the gallbladder is made up of different types of cells. The cancers are named according to the cell that's affected. For example, cancers that start in the gland cells lining the gallbladder are called adenocarcinomas. About 85% of all gallbladder cancers are adenocarcinomas.
Rarer types make up the other 15% of gallbladder cancers. These include cancers starting in the skin-like cells, called squamous cell carcinomas; sarcomas of the gallbladder; lymphomas of the gallbladder; and a few other rare types.
How common is gallbladder cancer?
Gallbladder cancer is uncommon. It's more common in women than men. About 224 people are affected by this cancer each year in Victoria.
Risks and causes of gallbladder cancer
People with a history of gallstones and inflammation of the gallbladder are more likely to develop gallbladder cancer. However, most people with gallstones or inflammation don't get gallbladder cancer.
Studies have shown that if you've had a first degree relative (mother, father, sister, brother or child) with gallbladder cancer you're five times more likely to develop gallbladder cancer. But remember, gallbladder cancer is very rare, so even if your risk is increased by five, it's still a very small risk.
People who smoke or work in the metal or rubber industries are more likely to develop gallbladder cancer. This is because cigarettes and some chemicals in rubber and metal produce chemicals that can damage your DNA, which may lead to cancer.
Several other risk factors for gallbladder cancer are being researched, for example, diet, being overweight and taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
Symptoms of gallbladder cancer
In its early stages gallbladder cancer doesn't usually cause symptoms, however it can sometimes cause pain in the right side above the stomach.
People with gallbladder cancer may also have symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, weakness and jaundice. Jaundice can cause dark urine and pale bowel motions. Other signs include fever, chills, poor appetite and weight loss.
If you have one of these symptoms it doesn't mean you have gallbladder cancer. Remember that it's rare, and your symptom is likely to be due to something less serious. However, see your doctor if any symptom persists for more than 2 weeks. Don't delay seeing a doctor if you have any signs of jaundice.