The month of February is designated as Gallbladder and Bile Duct Cancer Awareness Month, drawing attention to these diseases that have few warning signs and are typically caught in a later stage. While considered rare, these cancers disproportionately affect those living in Hawai’i. With the toll it takes on our communities, it is important to be familiar with gallbladder and bile duct cancers and how they develop.
The gallbladder is a small organ located on the right side of your abdomen, just below the liver and behind your ribs. It is part of the digestive system, and the gallbladder’s job is to store and release bile. Bile is a fluid made in the liver that helps digest fats from the food you eat. Bile ducts, or small tube-like vessels carry the fluid from the liver to the gallbladder and then to the small intestines.
Gallbladder cancer develops from an abnormal growth of cells located in the gallbladder, while bile duct cancer starts in the bile ducts. Due to the location deep inside the body, it can be difficult to identify. Hawai’i has one of the highest mortality rates for bile duct cancer within the country. Among all U.S. states, Hawai’i ranks second for the occurrence of liver and intrahepatic bile duct cancer1.
There is not enough information to prevent gallbladder and bile duct cancers, but awareness of the risk factors and symptoms is an important step in identifying it sooner.
Most risk factors are related to chronic inflammation, or irritation and swelling. Additional factors that
can increase your risk of these cancers include:
- Gallstones (small collections of cholesterol and substances that cause inflammation)
- Female (more common than males)
- Age (average age of diagnosis is 72)2
Most cases of these cancers are found after experiencing significant discomfort due to the symptoms, which include:
- Abdominal (belly) pain
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Lumps in the belly
Understanding the risk factors and signs, along with leading a healthy lifestyle can go a long way to preventing these cancers that impact our communities. Speak with your healthcare team about any red flags or chronic inflammation you may be experiencing.