Gallbladder cancer causes are largely unknown. Through research studies, scientists have established that the condition arises after DNA damage occurs within the cells of the gallbladder. Essentially, DNA provides a blueprint for how cells should function, divide and die at the appropriate times. Damaged DNA can provide faulty instructions that cause the cells to divide uncontrollably and not die when they should. The excess cells can then bind together and form tumors, which can sometimes become cancerous.
Researchers are still working to gain an understanding of the specific causes of gallbladder cancer. Through extensive studies, they have discovered several risk factors that are believed to make an individual more likely to develop the condition. These risk factors, which are not definitive causes of gallbladder cancer, involve inflammation that can result from:
- Chronic irritation or gallstones, which can make the gallbladder release bile more slowly than normal and expose the gallbladder cells to the bile chemicals for longer than usual.
- Blockages in the bile ducts that carry fluids from the liver and gallbladder through the pancreas to the small intestine, which can cause fluids to flow backward (reflux) into the gallbladder.
- Primary sclerosing cholangitis, which is a relatively rare condition that causes the bile ducts to become irritated.
- Porcelain gallbladder, a condition that causes calcium deposits to accumulate inside the gallbladder.
As a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, Moffitt Cancer Center is a respected leader in gallbladder cancer research. Our scientists are continually evaluating gallbladder cancer risk factors to learn how inflammation might cause damage to cellular DNA. Sometimes, however, it appears that the damage may simply result from a random event that occurs within a gallbladder cell, with no underlying cause.