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Gallbladder cancer is more common in women than it is in men1https://www.cancer.org/cancer/gallbladder-cancer/about/key-statistics.html. Many of the disease’s known risk factors are related, at least to some degree, to chronic gallbladder inflammation2https://www.cancer.org/cancer/gallbladder-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html.
Common imaging tests for gallbladder cancer include ultrasounds, CT scans, and MRIs3https://www.cancer.org/cancer/gallbladder-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/diagnosis.html. CT scans, however, expose you to potentially harmful radiation4https://www.fda.gov/radiation-emitting-products/medical-x-ray-imaging/what-are-radiation-risks-ct, and MRIs have been shown to be more effective in diagnosing gallbladder carcinomas than CT scans5https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30551027.
Typically, gallbladder cancer is asymptomatic until the original tumor is large or has spread to other body parts. Some common symptoms of the disease may include6https://www.cancer.org/cancer/gallbladder-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-and-symptoms.html:
Many of these symptoms may be a result of the cancer blocking the gallbladder’s bile ducts; it is also important to remember that gallbladder cancer is rare, and these symptoms can also be a sign of other illnesses.
If you are having any of the above symptoms you need to talk to a doctor about the appropriate diagnostic work up. The Ezra scan is a screening test for asymptomatic individuals and it is not designed to diagnose existing or suspected cancers.
Some risk factors known to increase an individual’s likelihood of developing gallbladder cancer include7https://www.cancer.org/cancer/gallbladder-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html:
However, some people with many risk factors never get gallbladder cancer, while some with little to no risk factors still develop the disease.
One common thread connecting many of gallbladder cancer’s known risk factors is chronic gallbladder inflammation, which can cause gallbladder cells to be exposed to bile chemicals for longer than usual.
Researchers are beginning to unearth how known risk factors, such as chronic inflammation, can lead to certain genetic changes, or mutations. Sometimes, these mutations occur in oncogenes or tumor suppressor genes, which are in charge of when cells grow, divide, or die. Such mutations can at least in part be responsible for cancer and can be inherited from one’s parents or be picked up randomly during one’s life. Furthermore, some gallbladder cancer risk factors are known to sometimes cause changes specifically in gallbladder cell DNA.Genetic mutations linked to gallbladder cancers are generally acquired during one’s lifetime as opposed to inherited from one’s parents. Many cases of the disease, for example, are linked to acquired changes in the tumor suppressor gene known as TP538https://www.cancer.org/cancer/gallbladder-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/causes.html.
If your doctor is looking for gallbladder cancer, they will likely begin with a physical exam, checking your abdomen for any fluid buildup, tenderness, and lumps. They’ll also check for signs of jaundice, as well as the lymph nodes for other signs of cancer. If there is any cause for concern, they’ll likely move on to bloodwork and imaging tests to further assess the situation.
Blood tests may check for bilirubin, which is the chemical responsible for jaundice. They may also check for albumin or liver enzymes, to diagnose other bile duct, liver, or gallbladder diseases. Your doctor could also do blood work to check for tumor markers known as CA 19-9 and CEA. These tests, however, are not gallbladder cancer-specific: the levels of these markers are only high in advanced cases of the disease, and are useful analyses while performing treatment for gallbladder cancer9https://www.cancer.org/cancer/gallbladder-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/diagnosis.html.
Common imaging tests for gallbladder cancer include ultrasounds, CT scans, and MRIs10https://www.cancer.org/cancer/gallbladder-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/diagnosis.html. CT scans, however, use x-rays, which expose you to radiation that can be harmful11https://www.fda.gov/radiation-emitting-products/medical-x-ray-imaging/what-are-radiation-risks-ct. Furthermore, a 2019 study showed that MRIs are a more efficient tool in diagnosing gallbladder cancer than CT scans12https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30551027.
If a suspicious area is identified, an ultrasound or CT-guided needle biopsy will likely be performed to further analyze it13https://www.cancer.org/cancer/gallbladder-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/diagnosis.html. If you are diagnosed with the disease, your doctor’s next step will likely be to stage the cancer; a cancer’s stage describes how much of it is in the body and helps inform the best treatment route. Gallbladder cancers are most often graded on the TNM system:
The best treatment for gallbladder cancer depends on the nature of the disease and how far it has spread. Treatment options may include: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy14https://www.cancer.org/cancer/gallbladder-cancer/treating.html.
Please consult with a physician on treatment options as necessary.