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Am I at Risk for Gallbladder Cancer?

Am I At Risk for Gallbladder Cancer?

Woman standing by a fence in the front yard

Certain factors can make you more likely to get gallbladder cancer than another person. These are called risk factors. However, just because you have one or more risk factors doesn't necessarily mean you will get gallbladder cancer. In fact, you can have many known risk factors and still not get gallbladder cancer, or you can have no known risk factors and still get it.

These are some of the risk factors associated with gallbladder cancer.

  • Gallstones. This is the most common risk factor. At least three out of four people with gallbladder cancer also have gallstones and an inflamed gallbladder. Cancer is more likely to develop if you have a single large stone rather than several small ones. Doctors believe that large gallstones grow over a long time, irritating the gallbladder wall and increasing the risk for cancer. Although gallstones are common, most people with gallstones rarely develop gallbladder cancer.

  • Female gender. Gallbladder cancer occurs more than twice as often in women as in men in the United States.

  • Older age. Gallbladder cancer occurs more often in people older than 65 years of age, although it may occur in younger people.

  • Ethnicity. In the United States, Hispanics of Mexican descent and American Indians have the highest rates of gallbladder cancer, while African-Americans have the lowest rate. 

  • Carcinogens. These are cancer-causing agents and several have been linked to gallbladder cancer. The reason the gallbladder is at risk is because toxic substances are filtered by the liver and excreted into the bile. Since bile flows through the gallbladder, it's exposed to these substances. Workers in rubber plants and textile factories have a higher rate of gallbladder cancer than the general population. However, because gallbladder cancer is relatively rare, it's difficult to determine if exposure to certain substances actually causes gallbladder cancer. 

  • Obesity. Some studies suggest a link between gallbladder cancer and obesity. This may be because obesity also increases the risk of developing gallstones. 

  • Gallbladder polyps. Polyps are growths in the gallbladder wall that can be a risk factor for gallbladder cancer. Polyps bigger than 1 centimeter (about one-half inch) are more likely to become cancerous.

  • Bile duct abnormalities. Abnormal bile ducts might slow the flow of bile from the gallbladder or allow pancreatic juices to enter it, which seems to increase the risk of gallbladder cancer. 

  • Chronic typhoid and paratyphoid infection. If you have been frequently exposed to these infections, you have a greater risk of gallbladder cancer. The chronic infection causes irritation of the gallbladder wall. Typhoid, however, is very rare in the United States.

  • Family history. A family history of gallbladder cancer seems to raise a person's risk, but most people with gallbladder cancer do not have a family history of the disease. 

 
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