Gallbladder cancer is a rare malignant cancer that affects the pear-shaped organ located near the liver. According to the National Cancer Institute, in 2009 there were 9,970 new cases of gallbladder cancer diagnosed, and 3,370 people died from the disease.
Gallbladder cancer is usually difficult to detect because of the location of the organ and many non-specific symptoms associated with the disease. However, like most cancers, early detection is the most important factor in determining prognosis. Cases that are caught earlier benefit more from treatment regimens and have a higher chance of survival. Therefore it is imperative that patients recognize the symptoms of gallbladder disease.
Abdominal pain is one of the most common symptoms experienced by patients suffering from gall bladder cancer. According to Johns Hopkins Pathology, the pain is usually located in the right upper quadrant, or portion, of the abdomen. The pain is usually caused by an inflammation of the gallbladder due to the blockage of the cystic duct. This blockage is usually caused by the tumor extending from the gallbladder and into the surrounding ducts.
Pain can also be caused by an inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas is an organ is located near the gallbladder. The duct that the pancreas uses to release its digestive enzymes can be obstructed by a mass in the gallbladder. This can lead to swelling of the pancreas and cause the patient to experience severe pain.
The Fox Chase Cancer Center reports that jaundice is one of the possible signs that a patient is suffering from gallbladder cancer. Jaundice is a yellowing of the skin and the sclera (white portion) of the eye. Johns Hopkins Pathology reports that almost 90 percent of patients suffering from gallbladder cancer experience this symptom. Jaundice is caused by the disruption of proper bile flow. Bile contains a yellowish pigment called bilirubin. Excess bilirubin can build up in the patient’s body and color the skin and sclera yellow.
Along with abdominal pain and jaundice, fever is one of the three most common symptoms experienced by patients with cancer of the gallbladder. The fever is usually high, more than 100.4 degrees F, and does not fluctuate. Medications can temporarily reduce the fever but it usually returns after the medication is stopped. Fever accompanied by right upper quadrant abdominal pain and jaundice usually points to liver or gallbladder disease.
Nausea and Vomiting
Fox Chase Cancer Center states that people that have contracted gallbladder cancer can present with nausea and vomiting. This symptom is probably caused by the improper digestion of food and by the buildup of bile in the patient’s body. Nausea and vomiting is a symptom that is found in many illnesses, therefore this symptom is not usually enough to suspect gallbladder cancer.
Masses in the Abdomen
In rare cases, the tumor that has affected the gallbladder can be felt as a lump in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen. This means that the tumor is either located close to the wall of the abdomen or is very large. Either scenario may mean the cancer is malignant. Any new mass that the patient is able to feel in his abdomen is cause for concern and must be brought to a doctor’s attention
Loss of Weight
Loss of weight is one of the most common symptoms seen in patients with cancer, according to the Mayo Clinic. This symptom is sometimes partnered with a loss of appetite. The tumor is using up many of the nutrients needed by the body to store fat and increase muscle mass. Therefore, significant weight loss in a short amount of time should prompt the patient to seek medical advice.
About this Author
Joseph Pritchard graduated from Our Lady of Fatima Medical School with a medical degree. He has spent almost a decade studying humanity. Dr. Pritchard writes for the Examiner.com as the SF biology examiner and thoroughly enjoys sharing the knowledge he has accumulated.