Causes and Diagnoses

Causes and Diagnoses of Gallbladder Cancer

The cause of gallbladder cancer is unknown, but risk factors may include:

  • Gallstones: Gallstones are the most common risk factor. Three out of four patients with gallbladder cancer also experience gallstones and an inflamed gallbladder. If you have a large gallstone, rather than several small stones, cancer is more likely to develop. Physicians believe this is because the gallstones irritate the gallbladder wall. However, gallstones are common and the majority of people with gallstones do not have cancer.
  • Porcelain gallbladder: This condition occurs when the walls of the gallbladder are hardened by calcium buildup.
  • Being female: Gallbladder cancer affects women twice as often as it affects men in the United States.
  • Age: Gallbladder cancer is more common in people over age 65.
  • Ethnicity: Gallbladder cancer occurs most often in Hispanics of Mexican descent and Native Americans. African-Americans have the lowest rates of gallbladder cancer.
  • Contact with carcinogens (substances that cause cancer): Toxins are filtered through the liver and excreted into bile, which flows through the gallbladder.
  • Obesity: Research has indicated a link between being obese and developing gallbladder cancer. Obesity also increases the risk of gallstones.
  • Gallbladder polyps (growths on the gallbladder wall): Polyps larger than half an inch may be more likely to develop into cancer.
  • Abnormalities in the bile duct: The bile duct carries bile from the liver to the gallbladder, then through the pancreas to the small intestine. If the bile duct is abnormal, bile may flow more slowly through the gallbladder. This condition may also allow pancreatic juices to reach the gallbladder.
  • Chronic typhoid or parathyphoid infection: These illnesses are very rare in the United States.
  • Family history: Genetics may play a role, but most people with gallbladder cancer have no family history.

Diagnoses

To diagnose gallbladder cancer, your physician will perform an assessment of your personal health history, your symptoms, risk factors and family health history. Your physician will perform a physical exam in addition to other diagnostic tests, including: