The month of February is observed every year as Gall bladder cancer awareness month worldwide. Seemingly unheard of type of cancer owing to its rarity in the western world, it may not be as rare in our country.
Gall bladder is a tiny sac located under the Liver which primarily functions as a storage place for liver juice (bile). Gall bladder stones are common and removal of the gall bladder by laparoscopic surgery is one of the most common gastrointestinal surgical procedures performed worldwide. Cancer affecting the gall bladder is rare, but it is one of the most aggressive cancers known to us and thus the reason why this month is dedicated to its awareness.
What are the symptoms of Gall bladder cancer?
Pain abdomen, mostly on the right upper abdomen. May be associated with weight loss, jaundice or abdominal distension at later stages.
What causes Gall Bladder Cancer?
Like many cancers, the exact etiology remains unknown. Chronic effect of gall bladder stones, genetic factors, geographical factors, exposure to industrial pollutants, smoking etc are some of the contributing factors
What are the steps we can take to prevent Gall Bladder cancer?
One of the constant factors associated with gall bladder cancer is the presence of gall stones. Reduced consumption of cholesterol generating foods, avoiding prolonged fasting, maintaining ideal body weight, high fiber diet etc may help prevent gall bladder stones and thus reduce the risk of cancer. Other than these measures, people with a known family history of gall bladder cancer or those hailing from geographical areas with a very high incidence of gall bladder cancer should undergo regular screening.
How do we diagnose Gall bladder cancer?
Diagnosis is usually done by an ultrasound scan of the abdomen. Further evaluation is done by blood tests, CT Scan etc.
What are the treatment modalities available?
Management of Gall bladder cancer requires a multidisciplinary team approach. Currently, surgery is the recommended primary treatment modality in patients who present with locally limited disease. This usually involves the removal of gall bladder with the adjacent liver and surrounding lymphoid tissue. Chemotherapy is usually offered as adjuvant therapy following surgery or as palliative therapy in inoperable diseases. Further advances in various adjuvant treatment modalities show promise.
Diagnosed with Gall bladder stones, do I need to fear Gall bladder cancer?
The prevalence of gall bladder stones is much much higher compared to that of Gall bladder cancer. Thus once someone is diagnosed to have gall stones they will be advised surgery only if they have symptoms or any complications secondary to gall stones. Only those with a family history of Gall bladder cancer or those with any other high-risk features will be advised to undergo surgery to prevent cancer.
The outcome of therapy mostly depends on the stage of presentation. Patients undergoing surgery for very early cancers can have near-normal survival whereas patients with stage 4 disease have survival figures ranging in months. This further emphasizes the need to be aware of this disease and seek medical help when indicated.