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Dr David Tai Wai-Meng, Consultant, Division of Medical Oncology, National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), a member of the SingHealth group, shares more on the risk factors and treatment for gallbladder cancer.

Gallbladder cancer is a rare cancer of the digestive system. It is difficult to detect and diagnose gallbladder cancer because there are often no significant symptoms in the early stage.

Risk factors of gallbladder cancer

Seniors and people with diabetes are more prone to developing it. Some lifestyle factors such as obesity and smoking are also known to increase the risk. Though not entirely proven, an unhealthy diet has also been linked to it.

“Most of the risk factors are related to some form of inflammation or irritation in the gall bladder. For instance, having recurrent gallstones is one of the more common risk factors. Cholecystitis, which is the long-term inflammation of the gall bladder, is also a potential risk,” said Dr Tai.

These were found to be true in the local context. Data from the same NCCS study showed that about a quarter of gallbladder cancer patients had gallstones prior to developing cancer, while another 12 per cent had cholecystitis.

“Another condition involving chronic inflammation is porcelain gall bladder, in which calcium forms on the wall of the gall bladder. People with this condition are also at higher risk, as are people with chronic infections of the gall bladder – these include Salmonella infections,” said Dr Tai.

Treatment for gallbladder cancer

Surgery offers a good chance of a cure if the cancer can be removed completely.

Unfortunately, in most cases the cancer has already spread beyond the gall bladder or is located in a difficult place which is inaccessible by surgery.

If surgery is not a good option because of the size or location of the cancer, a patient’s treatment choices include chemotherapy and radiation therapy. These can help to relieve symptoms and may help to prolong life. Surgery may be done not to cure but to relieve pain or prevent complications. Such treatments are known as palliative procedures.

“For example, if the cancer is blocking the bile duct that connects the gall bladder to the intestines, the patient may experience jaundice. Doctors may consider bypass surgery or the use of a stent to relieve such obstructions,” said Dr Tai.


Because of its aggressive nature and tendency towards being diagnosed at an advanced stage, gallbladder cancers can be very hard to treat.

“Given the current limited options available to patients and rapid deterioration after diagnosis, we try to offer enrolment into clinical trials of new treatments whenever possible,” said Dr Tai.

Ref: Q15