Dr Balasubramanian on Gallbladder Cancers

by Team Onco
Today we talk to Dr Balasubramanian about gallbladder cancer and try to understand it better. Gall bladder is a small bag like organ located underneath the liver and it helps our body digest fat and some other essential nutrients. 
Dr Balasubramanian Venkitaraman is a senior surgical oncologist who began his career at AIIMS, New Delhi. He is currently working as a consultant at MGM Healthcare, Chennai.  He previously had his stints with Billroth Hospital, Sri Ramachandra Medical College, and Medway Hospital in Chennai. He is an alumnus of Cancer Institute (WIA), Chennai, and Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons Glasgow, United Kingdom where he attained a post graduate diploma in surgery.

What causes gallbladder cancer?

The exact cause of gallbladder cancers is not known. However, those who have developed gallbladder stones or polyps in the past seem to be at higher risk of developing gallbladder cancer. This does not mean that everyone who has gallbladder stones or polyps will surely develop cancer. 

How do I know if I have gallbladder cancer?

In the initial stages, gallbladder cancer is asymptomatic. This means that there will probably not be any obvious symptoms to indicate that you have cancer. As the disease progresses you may experience pain on the right side of your abdomen, indigestion, loss of appetite etc. In the advanced stage, jaundice-like symptoms may appear because the gallbladder is situated close to the liver. 

What is the screening test and treatment for gallbladder cancer?

Ultrasounds can detect cancer in the early stages. But subjecting a large population to ultrasounds as a screening process is not viable. 

There are no blood markers for this type of cancer. 

If detected in the early stages, surgery is the primary treatment given for these cancers, apart from the gallbladder, surrounding lymph nodes, a part of the liver may be removed. 

In locally-advanced stages, chemotherapy or chemo-radiation may be given. 

In case of metastatic disease, where the disease has spread to other organs, surgery is generally not used. In such cases, palliative chemotherapy is usually given to control the symptoms. 

How long will a patient of gallbladder cancer survive?

If detected and treated in the early stages, the patient has 40-50% chance of surviving for five years. 

For metastatic cancer, the survival rate goes down considerably. 

What should a patient of gallbladder cancer eat?

A patient whose gallbladder has been surgically removed will find it difficult to digest fats. So a low-fat diet is highly recommended to prevent diarrhea and other symptoms. 

The patient will also need a high-calorie and high-protein diet to help them cope with treatments like chemotherapy. 

How can I prevent gallbladder cancer?

Since we do not know the cause of gallbladder cancer, it is difficult to completely prevent it. However, it is recommended that we avoid fast foods and high-fat diets. Optimum levels of exercise will ensure that a good BMI (body mass index) is maintained. This reduces the risk of developing gallbladder cancer.

Apart from this, addictions to tobacco and alcohol should be strictly avoided. 

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