Gallbladder 101: Causes, Risk Factors, and Symptoms

Your gallbladder, much like any organ within our bodies, is susceptible to many types of diseases that can have serious effects on your overall health.

Understanding the nature of gallbladder disease, especially if you have recently been diagnosed, is one of the first steps to fighting back and regaining your life.

Today, we will look at gallbladder cancer basics so that you can have a general awareness about the disease that affects thousands of Americans every year.  More specifically, we will discuss gallbladder cancer causes, risk factors, and symptoms while touching upon gallbladder cancer treatment options that may be available.

Types of Gallbladder Cancer

9 out of 10 gallbladder cancers are labeled as adenocarcinomas.  This type of cancer starts in the cells, has gland-like properties, and lines internal and external surfaces of the body, including the lining of the digestive system.  Unfortunately, since your gallbladder is a major component of the digestives system, the risk of adenocarcinomas affecting this tiny organ are relatively common.

There are, however, some other types of gallbladder cancers, though most of them are extremely rare. These include adenosquamous carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas, small cell carcinomas, and sarcomas.

Additionally, papillary adenocarcinoma, also known as papillary cancer, is a type of gallbladder cancer that is less likely to spread to the nearby liver or lymph nodes, provides a better prognosis than most gallbladder cancers, and makes up approximately 6% of all gallbladder cancer diagnoses.

Should you be diagnosed with any type of gallbladder cancer, it is essential you get into contact with your gallbladder cancer surgeon to discuss the next steps in becoming healthy.

Gallbladder Cancer Causes

Though there is no technical known cause for gallbladder cancer, it is worth mentioning that many scientists and researchers have theories as to what may at least influence the development of this particular type of cancer.

Chronic gallbladder inflammation is one commonality amongst those diagnosed with gallbladder cancer.  For instance, when someone has gallstones, the bile may be released more slowly in to the digestive system increasing the exposure the gallbladder has to the concentrated bile.  This excessive exposure may further irritate and inflame the gallbladder and cause additional health issues, such as gallbladder cancer.  However, most people who experience chronic gallstones will not develop gallbladder cancer, thus the reason of the exact cause remains unknown.


Another common scenario thought to cause gallbladder cancer is the change, or mutation, in an otherwise healthy gallbladder’s DNA.   These changes cause normal cells to grow out of control and continue to live, whereas they would typically die under normal circumstances.

The groups of continuously growing cells then form a tumor that will initially form in the gallbladder and then may spread to other areas of the body.

  • It is believed that chronic inflammation may cause these genetic mutations in the cells.
  • Cells with mutations have the ability to turn off tumor suppressor genes that we have naturally occurring in our bodies to fight disease.
  • Inherited gene mutations are not thought to cause many gallbladder cancers.
  • Some cells develop mutations for no direct reason and is seemingly random.

Risk Factors

Related to the causes of gallbladder cancer are the risk factors associated with a positive cancer diagnosis.  A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing cancer.

Though risk factors can influence a person’s development of cancer, most do not directly cause cancer.  In fact, some people with several risk factors never develop cancer, while others with no known risk factors do.

Here is a list of some of the most common risk factors known to be associated with gallbladder cancer:

  • Gallstones – As mentioned earlier, though most people with gallstones never develop gallbladder cancer, it is worth mentioning that 75% of those who are diagnosed with cancer have gallstones at the time of diagnosis.
  • Porcelain gallbladder – People with this condition have a higher chance of developing gallbladder cancer due to the long-term inflammation the gallbladder is exposed to. As the wall of the gallbladder becomes covered in calcium deposits (hence the name porcelain gallbladder), gene mutations become more likely as well as tumor formations.
  • Gender – Women in the United States are twice as likely to be diagnosed as men.
  • Obesity – People that are overweight are at a higher risk of developing gallstones and later gallbladder cancer.
  • Age – Older people tend to develop gallbladder cancer, with the average age being approximately 72.
  • Ethnicity – More commonly found in central and South America, central and eastern Europe, Japan, and northern India; gallbladder cancer is
    also common amongst those of Native American or Hispanic descent.Gallbladder-Cancer-Risk-Ethnicity-Locations
  • Abnormal bile ducts – An abnormality in the bile ducts connected to the pancreas may cause pancreatic juice to reflux into the bile ducts exposing them to bile for longer periods. This exposure may increase a person’s chance of the gallbladder becoming infected and developing cancer.
  • Family History – Though it’s not common that a family history of gallbladder cancer will play a role in your development of the cancer, it is unwise to rule out the effect your family genetics have on your overall health.


Many people never show any signs or symptoms of having gallbladder cancer until the cancer is advanced enough to cause serious health issues.  This is why gallbladder cancer is hard to find at an early stage of development, in addition to the fact that the gallbladder sits deep within the abdominal wall and related issues are not usually found during a routine physical examination.

When symptoms do occur, you can expect to experience one or more of the following:

  • Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Bloating
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss
  • Dark urine and light-colored or greasy stools

Unfortunately, when these symptoms do show, they often go unchecked by a physician as a gallbladder issue because they are associated with common illnesses such as the flu.  In fact, the most common scenario leading to a gallbladder cancer diagnosis is during a gallbladder surgery to remove gallstones.  This is when most gallbladder cancer is unexpectedly found.

Gallbladder Cancer Treatment

Gallbladder cancer treatment depends on a number of variables including your overall health, the exact location of the gallbladder cancer, and whether the cancer has spread to other areas of your body.  With this in mind, here are some gallbladder cancer treatment options you can expect your gallbladder cancer surgeon to recommend upon a cancer diagnosis:

  • Surgery – If the cancer has not spread to other areas of the body, a laparoscopic cholecystectomy may become a viable treatment option. Even if the cancer has spread, removal of the gallbladder may at least help your symptoms and decrease the effect the cancer has on your body.
  • Radiotherapy – Using high energy x-rays to destroy cancers cells, radiotherapy can sometimes help with gallbladder cancer.
  • Chemotherapy – This option is medicinal in nature and uses anti-cancer drugs to destroy cancer cells.
  • Stent insertion – If the gallbladder cancer is blocking the bile duct, your gallbladder cancer surgeon may be able to insert stents into the bile ducts to open them up and allow proper flow of bile through the digestive system.Location-of-Gallbladder-Cancer


Gallbladder cancer is a serious diagnosis with a poor prognosis when found in the late stages of development.  Enlisting one of America’s best gallbladder cancer surgeons, Dr. Fraiman, to help coordinate a plan of action for battling this disease is your best bet to restoring your health.

With a specialized team dedicated to every patient’s health by his side, Dr. Fraiman brings years of knowledge and experience to the table in an effort to provide the best individual care he can to those experiencing gallbladder cancer.


, ,