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Gallbladder cancer symptoms

Gallbladder cancer does not usually cause symptoms in its early stages. So by the time you and your doctor know it is there, it may be at a more advanced stage than some other types of cancer. The most common symptoms of gallbladder cancer can include

  • Abdominal (tummy) pain on your right side
  • Feeling or being sick
  • Jaundice

Symptoms of jaundice can include yellowing skin and whites of the eyes, severe itching, darkened urine and pale coloured bowel movements.

Gallbladder enlargement

If your bile duct has a blockage, your gallbladder will fill up with bile and become swollen and enlarged. Your doctor may be able to feel this during a physical examination but is more likely to see it on ultrasound scan.

Other, less common, symptoms of gallbladder cancer are loss of appetite (anorexia), loss of weight without dieting, and swollen abdomen (tummy).

Remember, other diseases apart from gallbladder cancer can cause these symptoms. Even so, it is important to see your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.

 

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General gallbladder cancer symptoms

Gallbladder cancer does not usually cause symptoms in its early stages. So by the time you and your doctor know it is there, it may be at a more advanced stage than some other types of cancer. At diagnosis, it has often spread outside the gallbladder itself to areas nearby.

It can be difficult for doctors to feel if your gallbladder is swollen or tender when they examine you. The gallbladder lies behind other organs deep inside your body and this can make it difficult to feel. Many early stage cancers of the gallbladder are found by chance. For example, when someone is having their gallbladder taken out to treat gallstones.

You may get a number of symptoms with gallbladder cancer. Most of these happen in the later stages of the disease. Other illnesses apart from gallbladder cancer can also cause these symptoms. Even so, it is important that you see your doctor. Whatever is causing your symptoms needs treating.

 

Tummy pain (abdominal pain)

You can get an aching feeling on your right side if you have gallbladder cancer. Some people describe it as a dragging feeling. If the cancer or gallstones block the bile duct, you will have a sharper pain.

 

Feeling or being sick

This is very common in the later stages of gallbladder cancer. Over half the people diagnosed with gallbladder cancer will feel or be sick quite often at some stage of their illness. This is usually fairly easy to control with anti sickness drugs.

 

Jaundice

Jaundice means either that your liver is not working properly or that there is a blockage in your biliary system. The symptoms can include

  • Yellowing skin and whites of the eyes
  • Severe itching in some people
  • Darkened urine
  • Pale coloured stools (bowel movements)

Jaundice is due to a build up of bile salts in the blood. If the cancer has blocked the common bile duct the bile cannot drain away into the bowel as it normally would. So bile salts build up in your blood and body tissues. The bile salts make your skin and the whites of your eyes look yellow. The bile salts in your skin make it itch (doctors call itching pruritis). And they make your urine darker than normal. Because the bile is not passing into your bowel, your stools will be much paler than normal.

Nearly half the people diagnosed with gallbladder cancer have jaundice. This is often a sign that the cancer is in its later stages.

Remember - having jaundice does not always mean you have cancer. A viral infection of the liver (hepatitis) is a much more common cause of jaundice than gallbladder cancer.

 

Gallbladder enlargement

If your bile duct is blocked, your gallbladder will fill up with bile and get swollen and enlarged. Your doctor may be able to feel this during a physical examination but is more likely to see it on an ultrasound scan.

 

Other symptoms

Other, less common, symptoms of gallbladder cancer are

  • Loss of appetite (anorexia)
  • Loss of weight without dieting
  • A swollen abdomen (tummy)

Abdominal pain is a sign of many diseases that are far more common than gallbladder cancer. But it is best to be safe. So people with any of these symptoms should see their doctor. Most health problems are much easier to treat when they are found early.

 

More information

The earlier a cancer is picked up, the easier it is to treat it and the more likely the treatment is to be successful. So it is important that you go to your GP as soon as possible if you notice worrying symptoms.

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Updated: 6 June 2014