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Gallbladder cancer

Risk factors for gallbladder cancer may vary

Although the exact causes of gallbladder cancer are unknown, certain factors may increase a person’s risk of developing gallbladder cancer. Frequently, these factors are related to chronic inflammation of the gallbladder. Common risk factors include:

General

Gender: Gallbladder cancer occurs twice as frequently in women as in men. This may be related to the increased frequency of gallstones and chronic inflammation.

Age: Gallbladder cancer occurs mainly in individuals over the age of 65. The average age at diagnosis is 73.

Ethnicity and geography: Gallbladder cancer occurs more frequently in Mexican Americans and Native Americans, while African Americans have the lowest risk. However, gallbladder cancer is less common in the United States compared with countries in Asia, Eastern Europe and South America.

Body

Obesity: Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for gallbladder cancer and may be related to an increased risk for developing gallstones.

Genetics

Family history: Although the genetic cause is unknown, the risk of gallbladder cancer seems to increase in families with a history of the disease.

Learn more about genetic testing

Lifestyle

Chemical exposure: Some studies have shown that exposure to certain industrial chemicals, particularly those used in the rubber and textile industries, may be linked to an increased risk of gallbladder cancer. However, the link is not certain, and more research is needed.

Other conditions

Gallstones: The leading gallbladder cancer risk factor is the presence of gallstones, which are found in over 75 percent of patients with gallbladder cancer. These hard, rock-like deposits sometimes form from cholesterol and other substances found in the bile. Gallstones may block the flow of bile and lead to chronic inflammation. However, gallstones are very common, particularly in middle-aged women, and most people with this condition do not develop gallbladder cancer.

Porcelain gallbladder: This is a condition where calcium deposits cover the wall of the gallbladder, and some but not all studies have suggested a link between this condition and gallbladder cancer. A link may also exist between chronic inflammation and the calcification of the gallbladder.

Choledochal cysts: Bile-filled cysts may develop along the common bile duct that leads from the gallbladder and liver to the small intestine. Sometimes the lining of the cysts may develop pre-cancerous cells, increasing the risk of cancer.

Bile duct abnormalities: Other conditions that cause the bile duct to back up or result in inflammation of the gallbladder may also raise the risk of cancer.

Gallbladder polyps: These are abnormal growths that form on the gallbladder. They may be caused by cholesterol deposits or by inflammation. Larger polyps (bigger than a centimeter) have a greater chance of being cancerous, and doctors often recommend removing the gallbladder when larger polyps are found.

Typhoid: Individuals with a chronic infection caused by salmonella, the bacterium that causes typhoid, may be at increased risk for gallbladder cancer, but this is rare in the United States.

Next topic: What are the symptoms of gallbladder cancer?