Gallbladder and bile duct cancer are rare types of gastrointestinal cancers. They are typically diagnosed in later stages because they do not usually cause any signs or symptoms. Doctors usually find these types of cancer after removing the gallbladder or checking for gallstones.
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What are gallbladder and bile duct cancer?
Gallbladder and bile duct cancer are caused when malignant (cancerous) cells develop in the tissue of the gallbladder or bile ducts.
The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ in the upper abdomen. The gallbladder stores bile, which is a fluid used to digest fat that is produced by the liver. The gallbladder releases bile into vessels called bile ducts, which carry the bile into the small intestine. Releasing the bile into the small intestine helps you digest food.
What are the types of gallbladder and bile duct cancer?
Most gallbladder and bile duct cancers are adenocarcinomas, which is a cancer that forms in the mucus glands of the gallbladder and bile ducts.
Most bile duct tumors form outside the liver (extrahepatic bile duct cancer), however, approximately one-third of bile duct tumors form inside the bile duct branches inside the liver (intrahepatic bile duct cancer). Bile duct tumors are also called cholangiocarcinomas.
There are several other forms of gallbladder cancer, but they are very rare. They include:
- Papillary adenocarcinoma (papillary cancer)
- Adenosquamous carcinomas
- Squamous cell carcinomas
What are the risk factors for gallbladder and bile duct cancer?
Women are twice as likely as men to develop gallbladder cancer. Native Americans and Mexican Americans also have a higher risk of developing gallbladder cancer compared with the general population.
Other risk factors for gallbladder cancer include:
- Being over the age of 70.
- Having gallstones.
- Having small growths (polyps) on the gallbladder wall.
- Using tobacco, especially smoking.
- Having a family history of gallbladder cancer.
- Being obese.
- Frequent infections with salmonella.
- Having a condition called porcelain gallbladder. This happens when the gallbladder is covered in calcium deposits, which often happens when it is inflamed.
Bile duct cancer is more likely to affect people who suffer from chronic inflammation in the bile ducts, which is often caused by small stones (similar to gallstones) that form in the bile ducts.
Other risk factors for bile duct cancer include:
- Having a history of ulcerative colitis.
- Having congenital bile duct cysts (choledochal cysts).
- Being exposed to biliary parasites.
- Having chronic hepatitis C.
- Using tobacco, especially smoking.
- Having diabetes.
What can you do to prevent gallbladder and bile duct cancer?
Most risk factors for gallbladder and bile duct cancer, such as age, gender, and ethnicity are unavoidable. If you have chronic gallstones or porcelain gallbladder, your doctor may recommend removing your gallbladder, which can prevent these types of cancers.
There are ways you can lower your risk for developing cancer, including:
- Not using tobacco. Speak with your doctor if you need help quitting.
- Exercising regularly.
- Eating a healthy diet. Aim for plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fait dairy. Talk with your doctor or a nutritionist about what you should include in a healthy diet.
- Keeping a healthy weight. Ask your doctor what a healthy weight is for you