What Causes Gallbladder Cancer

Doctors know that gallbladder cancer forms when healthy gallbladder cells develop changes (mutations) in their DNA. A cell’s DNA contains the instructions that tell a cell what to do. The changes tell the cells to grow out of control and to continue living when other cells would normally die. The accumulating cells form a tumor that can grow beyond the gallbladder and spread to other areas of the body. It’s not clear what causes gallbladder cancer, but several risk factors have been identified, including:

  • Gender: Gallbladder cancer is more common in women than men.
  • Age: Gallbladder cancer is more common in people over the age of 60.
  • Gallstones: Gallstones are solid masses that form in the gallbladder, and people with a history of gallstones have an increased risk of developing gallbladder cancer.
  • Porcelain gallbladder: This is a condition where the walls of the gallbladder become covered in calcium deposits, and it has been linked to an increased risk of gallbladder cancer.
  • Chronic inflammation: Long-term inflammation of the gallbladder, usually due to a bacterial infection, can increase the risk of gallbladder cancer.
  • Obesity: Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of gallbladder cancer.
  • Family history: People with a family history of gallbladder cancer have an increased risk of developing the disease.
  • Choledochal cysts: Choledochal cysts are bile-filled sacs along the common bile duc. The cysts can grow large over time and may contain as much as 1 to 2 quarts of bile. The cells lining the sac often have areas of pre-cancerous changes, which can progress to gallbladder cancer over time.
  • Abnormalities of the bile ducts: Some people have a defect where their ducts lets juice from the pancreas flow backward (reflux) into the bile ducts. This backward flow also keeps bile from flowing out of the bile ducts as quickly as it should. People with these abnormalities are at higher risk of gallbladder cancer.
  • Gallbladder polyps: A gallbladder polyp is a growth that bulges from the surface of the inner gallbladder wall. Some polyps are formed by cholesterol deposits in the gallbladder wall. Others may be small tumors (either cancer or not cancer) or may be caused by inflammation.
  • Primary sclerosing cholangitis: Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) is a condition in which inflammation of the bile ducts (cholangitis) leads to the formation of scar tissue (sclerosis). People with PSC have an increased risk of gallbladder and bile duct cancer.
  • Typhoid: People chronically infected with salmonella (the bacterium that causes typhoid) and those who are carriers of typhoid are more likely to get gallbladder cancer than those not infected. This is probably because the infection can cause gallbladder inflammation. Typhoid is very rare in the US.
  • Diabetes: You might have an increased risk of gallbladder cancer or cancer of the bile duct if you have diabetes

Other possible risk factors

Studies have found other factors that might increase the risk of gallbladder cancer, but the links are not as clear. These include:

  • Smoking
  • Exposure to chemicals used in the rubber and textile industries
  • Exposure to nitrosamines
  • Alcohol abuse

It is important to note that having one or more of these risk factors does not mean that a person will develop gallbladder cancer, and some people with gallbladder cancer may have no known risk factors. Regular check-ups with a healthcare provider can help identify any potential health issues early on.