It is a rare type of cancer which is commonly seen in people over the age of 70. There is no clear cause for it, but risk factors include gallstones and recurrent inflammation of the gallbladder, a porcelain gall bladder, gallbladder polyps , family history and smoking. Early gallbladder cancer can be completely without symptoms, and can be discovered incidentally on histological examination following the removal of the gallbladder for gallstone disease.
The majority of gall bladder cancers are discovered late on, when they begin giving symptoms such as pain, nausea and in more advanced stages when jaundice is noticed, this is due to bile duct invasion by tumour progression. If possible surgery is the best option. In cases of an incidental finding after a cholecystectomy has been undertaken a completion procedure could be considered with the aim to remove the gallbladder bed (the part of the liver where the gallbladder is normally attached and the surrounding nodes around the cystic duct).
During this operative procedure and whilst the patient is still under general anaesthetic, the removed tissue is sent for a frozen section (histological exam run during the surgical procedure). This allows the surgeon to confirm that all malignant tissue is removed. If, however, the results show any signs of advanced disease a more extensive resection is performed. In more advanced stages of gallbladder cancer, surgery remains possible provided the disease is limited to the gallbladder and surrounding liver and has not progressed by invading the major blood supply or metastasised to the liver.