Detecting gallbladder cancer can be a challenging task for even the most experienced gallbladder cancer surgeon. For instance, there are typically no early signs or symptoms. And, if symptoms do present themselves, they often mimic symptoms of other, more common illnesses.
This means those who have gallbladder cancer may go for long periods of time without even realizing it. This makes treatment of the cancer much more difficult.
Further, because the gallbladder is hidden behind the liver, a physical examination rarely reveals the presence of tumor growth because the gallbladder simply cannot be felt by your physician.
That being said, there are still many opportunities for your gallbladder physician to find cancer and get you started on a treatment plan right away.
Today, we will look at the various ways gallbladder cancer is detected and the possible treatment options you and your physician have to choose from to make you healthy once again.
Gallbladder Cancer Testing
One of the most unexpected ways gallbladder cancer is detected in patients is during a routine removal of the gallbladder due to an extreme case of gallstones. The reason is, after the removal of your gallbladder, your physician takes a close look at your tiny organ in the lab. These lab tests will reveal any cancer cells if they are there. Luckily, this will alert your physician to take the next steps in cancer treatment should the cancer spread to other organs.
However, besides the accidental diagnosis of cancer, there are some other more concrete ways in which your Baltimore gallbladder physician can attempt to detect gallbladder cancer before it reaches an advanced stage.
After completing a physical examination with your physician, you may be ordered to have specific blood work done to further determine whether you have gallbladder cancer.
The first test checks your liver and gallbladder’s function by determining the amount of bilirubin in your blood. If you are having issues with either your liver or gallbladder, blood work may reveal elevated levels of bilirubin. There are also liver function tests that may be ordered that test things such as:
- Alkaline phosphatase
Any abnormalities in these substance levels may indicate a liver, bile duct, or gallbladder issue.
In addition to checking the levels of regular substances that are supposed to be in your blood, your gallbladder physician may test what are called tumor markers. Tumor markers are proteins found in the blood that often show up when certain cancers are present. These markers alert physicians to possible tumor and cancer growth.
Tumor markers CEA and CA 19-9 are the ones your Baltimore physician will be on the lookout for when it comes to cancer detection. Usually, if the levels of either of these markers are high in your blood, cancer has already reached an advanced stage.
Imaging tests are a helpful way for your physician to visually detect any abnormalities you may have in your gallbladder, including tumor growth. Though there are many different imaging tests available, they are all serve the following purposes:
- To check an area that may have cancer
- To help guide your physician during an internal biopsy procedure
- To see how far a cancer has spread and to which organs
- To guide certain cancer treatments
- To determine the progress of certain treatments
- To look for signs of recurring cancer after treatment has ended
If gallbladder cancer has been suspected by your physician, or you are at various stages of gallbladder cancer treatment, you may take part in the following imaging tests:
- Ultrasound – Uses high-energy sound waves to bounce off of tissues and organs to make a sonogram image for your physician to detect abnormal growths
- CT Scan (CAT scan) – Uses an x-ray machine to take a series of detailed images of areas within your body to look for cancer growth
- MRI Scan – Uses radio waves and strong magnets to take a images of specific areas in your body to look for unusual growths
- Cholangiography – Imaging tool that looks deep within your bile ducts for blockages, narrowing, or dilation to reveal a tumor that may be blocking the passageway
- Angiography – Uses an x-ray machine to look at blood vessels that have been injected with a vibrant dye to show vessel blockages or abnormal vessel growth
Sometimes your gallbladder cancer surgeon will want to perform exploratory surgery on you to determine the seriousness of a cancer diagnosis, to take a biopsy for further testing, or to remove cancerous growths.
One such procedure that requires the expertise of your local Baltimore cancer gallbladder surgeon is a laparoscopy. This minor surgery involves a thin tube with a light and camera attached to the end for viewing your gallbladder. With such a close up view of your insides, your physician can truly detect any tumor growth, the extent of the cancer, and plan further treatment options.
Gallbladder Cancer Staging
After gallbladder cancer is detected, it must be staged by your gallbladder physician to determine the seriousness of the cancer. There is a very complex system in place for staging your gallbladder cancer. However, here is a quick overview so you can have a general idea of how staging works:
- Stage I – The cancer is only within the inner layers of your gallbladder.
- Stage II – The cancer has extended to the outer layer of your gallbladder and is threatening to spread to other areas of your body.
- Stage III – The cancer has now officially spread to other tissue or organs such as the liver, intestine, stomach, or lymph nodes.
- Stage IV – The cancer is very large in size and involves many nearby organs.
After staging has been completed, your Baltimore gallbladder physician will help you structure an individualized treatment plan.
Gallbladder Cancer Treatment Options
When it comes to treating gallbladder cancer, there are many different options available, depending on the extent of your situation. Here are some of the most common options your physician may discuss with you:
Surgery for Early-Stage Gallbladder Cancer
There are two surgical options when it comes to treating gallbladder cancer detected in its early stages.
The first surgical option involves completely removing all cancerous tissue in an attempt to cure you of the disease. This typically involves a procedure known as laparoscopic cholecystectomy. Unfortunately, if the cancer has spread to other parts of your body this procedure will not cure you.
The second surgical option involves removal of portions of the cancer to relieve pain or prevent further complications. This is especially useful when your bile ducts are blocked due to a tumor growth. Though this will not cure you of your cancer, it can help relieve symptoms associated with the cancer and even prolong your life.
Possible Treatments for Late-Stage Gallbladder Cancer
If your gallbladder cancer has spread to other parts of your body, your physician will likely include some of these additional treatments into your overall treatment plan:
- Chemotherapy – Powerful chemicals are injected into your blood stream or taken orally to detect and attack cancer cells in the hopes of killing them. This helps reach all parts of your body so any cancer that has spread will be affected by the anti-cancer drugs. It has been found that chemotherapy has had only a limited positive effect on treating gallbladder cancer.
- Radiation – This treatment uses high-powered beams of energy directed at the cancer cells to attack and kill them. This is a painless procedure and has shown to be promising when included in gallbladder treatment plans.
- Clinical Trials – There are always new drugs on the market that physicians and researchers alike need to test at one point or another. Sometimes getting involved in a clinical trial is the only way to access the most promising drugs available, though this option is not for everyone. If this is something you are interested in, make sure to discuss it thoroughly with your physician.
Your treatment plan will be highly personalized to match your treatment needs. This is why getting in touch with only the best Baltimore gallbladder cancer physician is necessary so that you get the best possible chance at a positive outcome.
Having a strong support system will be the key to getting through your gallbladder cancer diagnosis and treatment plans. In addition, seeking the care of the most experienced gallbladder cancer surgeon in the Baltimore area will help guarantee you the best and healthiest results.
Call Dr. Fraiman and his wonderful team over at the Liver and Pancreas Center today if you are experiencing gallbladder problems that may be related to cancer. With years of experience and a personal dedication to your health, Dr. Fraiman will help you through your gallbladder cancer diagnosis from start to finish until you are as healthy as possible.