Gallbladder Cancer Definition
Sometimes cells in the body grow out of control, which is the start of cancer. When this happens in the gallbladder it’s referred to as gallbladder cancer. Eventually the cancer will spread to other parts of the body. To better understand gallbladder cancer, it’s helpful to know what the gallbladder does and how it functions.
The gallbladder is a small organ located just under the liver, which are both behind the ribs on the right side of the body. This pear-shaped organ is about 4 inches long and about an inch wide. The function of this organ is to concentrate and store a substance called bile.
Bile is a fluid that helps dissolve fats in food as it passes through the small intestine. The liver releases bile directly into ducts that lead to the small intestine, or it’s stored inside of the gallbladder to be released at a later time. The gallbladder releases bile through a duct called the cystic duct, which joins up with other structures and eventually empties into the duodenum at the ampulla of Vater.
About 90% of all gallbladder cancers are adenocarcinomas, which is a cancer that starts in the cells that line internal and external surfaces of many body structures. About 6% of all gallbladder cancers are papillary cancers, which have a better prognosis than most other forms of gallbladder cancer. The remainder of gallbladder cancers are a mix of adenosquamous carcinomas, sarcomas, and small cell sarcomas, but they are all quite rare.
Gallbladder Cancer Stages
After being diagnosed with gallbladder cancer, doctors run a series of physical exams and tests to determine the nature of the cancer and whether it’s spread to other parts of the body in a process called metastasis. The purpose of staging is to provide doctors with a frame of reference for recommending treatment based on historical data, and to present the patient with a prognosis for recovery.
Gallbladder cancers in their earliest stage are identified by the numeral 0, whereas cancers in an advanced stage receive the highest staging value of IV. As a general rule, the higher the numeral, the more the cancer has spread within the patient’s body.
Gallbladder cancers are most often staged according to the TNM staging system, which breaks down the cancer into three distinct categories. These letters represent the following pieces of information:
• T – Tumor – This letter describes how far the gallbladder cancer has grown into the wall of the gallbladder, and into any nearby organs like the liver.
• N- Nodes – This letter describes whether the gallbladder cancer has spread to any lymph nodes.
• M – Metastasized – This letter describes whether the gallbladder cancer has spread to distant areas within the patient’s body. The most likely places for gallbladder cancer to spread are the liver, peritoneal cavity, and lungs.
Numerals will appear directly after these letters. Lower numerals mean the gallbladder cancer is in its earlier stages, while higher numbers mean the cancer is more advanced. The individual values of each category are then combined in a process called grouping, and then an overall stage is assigned to the cancer which may be I, II, III, or IV.
Gallbladder cancers are also sometimes graded based on how much the cancer looks like normal tissue when viewed under a microscope. The grade may either be 1,2, or 3. Low grade gallbladder cancers usually grow slower than high grade cancers.
Gallbladder Cancer Symptoms (signs of Gallbladder cancer)
Gallbladder cancer doesn’t usually cause symptoms until it’s in a more advanced stage, but some patients experience symptoms earlier than other which can lead to an early diagnosis and a better prognosis. Some of the most common symptoms associated with gallbladder cancer include:
• Pain in the belly – Almost every patient with gallbladder cancer will experience abdominal pain, usually in the upper right area of the belly.
• Nausea and vomiting – These symptoms sometimes accompany gallbladder cancer
• Jaundice – This is the yellowing of the skin and white parts of the eyes. When gallbladder cancer grows large enough, it can block bile ducts, preventing the liver from draining into the intestines. As bile builds up in the body, the symptoms are exhibited by the yellowing
• Belly lumps – Gallbladder cancer sometimes spreads to the liver, which can sometimes be felt as ;umps by a doctors conducting a physical exam.
There are some less common symptoms that include loss of appetite, weight loss, fever, dark urine, itchy skin, greasy stools, and swelling in the abdomen.
Gallbladder Cancer Statistics
It is estimated that there will be around 12,000 new cases of gallbladder cancer and other biliary cancers in 2018, about 6,700 of which will be women. About 66% of gallbladder cancer cases are found in women. Of these, it is estimated that around 3,800 will result in death.
The 5 year survival rate is a way of informing patients how many cancer patients live at least 5 years after their diagnosis. The 5 year survival rate for gallbladder cancer is about 19%, but much depends on whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. The 5 year survival rate for Stage 0 gallb cancer is 80%, dropping to 50% for Stage I gallbladder cancer. Later stage cancers have a far lower 5 year survival rate.
Causes of Gallbladder Cancer
There are several risk factors that make people more likely to develop gallbladder cancer, and researchers are beginning to understand how they are linked to the onset of the disease.
Chronic gallbladder inflammation is one such risk factor. This condition causes the gallbladder to release bile slower than normal, and the increased exposure to the chemicals in the bile lead to inflammation. There are other health conditions that cause this inflammation. Doctors believe that chronic inflammation causes DNA in cells to change. When this happens, cancer develops.
While there may be increased risk of developing some cancers because of genetics passed on from parents, this isn’t though to play a large role in the onset of gallbladder cancer. There may be other causes of gallbladder cancer that aren’t known.
Gallbladder Cancer Screening and Prevention
Screening is a process where doctors seek to find cancer in its earliest stages by using routine texts and exams. However, gallbladder cancer is very difficult to find early, because tests that are capable of finding it early aren’t available. Additionally, the gallbladder is deep inside the body, making it virtually impossible to detect tumors during routine physical exams. For this reason, gallbladder cancer is almost always found after symptoms become manifest.
There are certain steps people can take to reduce the risk of gallbladder cancer. Maintaining a healthy weight with a good diet and daily exercise is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of developing all kinds of cancer.
Since gallstones are a major risk factor for chronic gallbladder inflammation and resulting cancer, it often makes sense to remove the gallbladder in patients who have issues with gallstones. Still, gallstones are common while gallbladder cancer is rare, so most doctors won’t recommend this surgery unless they’re causing other problems or symptoms. Surgery is always risky, but removing the gallbladder usually doesn’t cause any future problems as long as the surgery is successful.
Gallbladder Cancer Treatments
Treatment for gallbladder cancer will depend on the staging of the cancer, whether it’s spread, and the overall health of the patient. Mainstream treatments for gallbladder cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Surgery is Surgery has a high chance of success when doctors are able to remove all of the cancer, and it’s considered the only way to cure gallbladder cancer.
The goal of surgery is to remove all of the cancer, but this is only possible if the cancer remains in or near the gallbladder. If the cancer spreads too far, surgery may still be performed but the prognosis won’t be as good.
There are different types of surgery depending on the nature of the tumor, two examples of which are staging laparoscopy and cholecystectomy. Palliative surgery may also be performed if the cancer has spread extensively in an effort to reduce side effects or alleviate pain.
Chemotherapy is another therapy used for gallbladder cancer. This therapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells in the body. The drugs are either taken orally or injected directly into the bloodstream. Chemotherapy is capable of reaching cancer cells all over the body, but it cannot cure gallbladder cancer. Still, chemotherapy is used in situations where the cancer has spread and after surgery in an effort to reduce the risk of recurrence.
There are a number of chemotherapy drugs used in different situations, and these have various side effects that can be quite unpleasant. The reason for the side effects is because chemotherapy drugs damage normal cells while attacking cancer cells. Talk to your doctor about chemotherapy side effects and how long they will last after the treatment is complete.
Radiation therapy is a process where high-energy radiation is used to kill cancer cells. If gallbladder cancer can’t be removed surgically or is causing problems like internal bleeding, radiation therapy may offer a solution. It’s also sometimes used after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells.
The form of radiation therapy most commonly used for gallbladder cancer is called external-bean radiation therapy. A machine is used to focus a radiation beam at the tumor from outside of the body. While this treatment is painless, there are side effects that may include fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, and blistering of the skin where the beam is focused.
Alternative Treatments Used for Gallbladder Cancer
If gallbladder cancer treatment falls outside of mainstream treatment protocols, it is considered “alternative.” If alternative treatment is used in tandem with mainstream treatments like surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, they are considered “complementary” treatments. If treatment not considered mainstream is used as the primary method for recovery, then it’s called “alternative.”
Many alternative treatments for gallbladder cancer focus on the body’s natural healing abilities, a key part of which is the immune system. The goal with these alternative therapies is to reinforce the body’s natural defense system so it can effectively fight the gallbladder cancer cells. For patients with gallbladder cancer in higher stages, alternative treatments may ultimately be more appealing considering the high mortality rate relative to mainstream treatments.
Boosting the body’s immune system is often accomplished via a highly specialized diet full of healthy food, vitamin supplements, and other alternative therapies like acupuncture and massage. Alternative treatments may be especially helpful for patients using them in a complementary manner along with traditional treatments, or who are seeking relief from late stage cancer that has metastasized.
Some alternative gallbladder cancer treatments focus directly on the patient by using tests to assess their unique form of cancer. The doctor will then use this information to develop a highly focused treatment protocol. Because every cancer is unique the individual, the idea is to use a wide variety of tests to see what treatments are most effective at killing their gallbladder cancer. This is far different than the one-size-fits-all treatment approach most often employed by mainstream medicine.
As with any medical treatment, gallbladder cancer treatment is a highly personal matter that requires careful consideration. Always explore your options in detail so that you can make the best choices regarding gallbladder cancer treatment.
Vitamins and Supplements Used in the Treatment of Gallbladder Cancer
Alternative treatments often utilize vitamin and supplement therapies. Many doctors also recommend a diet rich in vitamins to reduce risk factors associated with various forms of cancer, including gallbladder cancer. Some of the more common vitamins used for these purposes are as follows.
• Vitamin B6 – This essential vitamin supports the normal function of the adrenal glands. It also makes antibodies that help the immune system fight disease, which is important in battling cancer.
• Vitamin C – This is another essential vitamin and immune system booster that the body needs. This vitamin helps repair and regenerate tissue in the body, which is an essential process for many on cancer treatment protocols that include chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
• Vitamin D – Your body needs vitamin D to operate normally,and low levels are associated with higher cancer risk. While usually absorbed through the skin by exposure to natural sunlight, some people require vitamin D supplements to maintain adequate levels. If you live in a northern region where winter sunlight is reduced, you won’t get enough sun to provide you with adequate vitamin D. For this reason, you should have your vitamin D levels routinely checked by a doctor and find out if you need a supplement.
• Vitamin E – This essential vitamin helps the body fight infection, which is a powerful tool during cancer treatments that could make the body more susceptible to infections.
• Vitamin A – This is yet another vitamin that boosts the immune system, which is often the goal of alternative cancer therapies.
• Selenium – Selenium has been shown to slow down cancer cells in aggressive cancers, and some gallbladder cancers may qualify.
There are many other supplements and vitamins commonly used during gallbladder cancer treatment. Be sure to speak with your doctor before using any supplement or vitamin to make sure it fits within your prescribed treatment protocols.
Natural Remedies that May Help Gallbladder Cancer
Not only do those suffering from gallbladder cancer often seek natural remedies for prevention and treatment, they also seek ways to counter the adverse of effects of traditional treatments like radiation therapy. Even if surgery is successful, gallbladder cancer patients may be left with a number of side effects.
Common side effects associated with many mainstream gallbladder cancer treatments include:
• Chronic fatigue syndrome
• Gallbladder pain
It’s important to recognize that exercise and a healthy diet is its own natural remedy. Cancer treatments can sap away your energy and make it difficult to sleep. For the body to combat these side effects of treatment, it needs to be in optimal health, which is made possible by a good diet. An active lifestyle will also help increase endurance, improve sleep, and reduce stress levels. It may also reduce your risk of gallbladder cancer recurrence.
Other natural remedies include anything that helps mitigate pain. This can include everything from ice packs to Epsom salt baths and everything in between. Increasing your comfort level will help you deal with the side effects associated with treatment, which in turn can help you heal faster.
For more information about gallbladder cancer, contact a helpful member of the Causenta team.
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