Gallbladder cancer screening is generally not recommended, mainly because physical examinations usually cannot detect the presence of gallbladder cancer in early stages, and routine blood tests are not available for people without symptoms. While research on possible early detection methods is ongoing, no currently available test has been found to be reliable and cost effective enough to be recommended for routine use in detecting early-stage gallbladder cancer in people who are not experiencing symptoms.
A further complication with regard to screening is that gallbladder cancer is often difficult to detect. Because the organ is situated deep within the body, gallbladder tumors usually cannot be seen or felt. In most cases, the cancer is diagnosed only after it has become advanced enough to produce symptoms. Common signs that should be evaluated promptly by a physician include unexplained abdominal pain and swelling. Some patients also experience jaundice, nausea, vomiting, weight loss or fever.
While the following options are not generally used for gallbladder cancer screening purposes, a physician may order one or more of these tests when evaluating a patient’s symptoms or to confirm a diagnosis:
- Bilirubin test – A problem in the gallbladder or liver can elevate the level of bilirubin (a chemical that gives bile its yellowish color) in the blood.
- Liver function test – The levels of other substances in the blood, including albumin, alkaline phosphatase, AST, ALT and GGT, can sometimes fall outside of healthy ranges if a patient has a liver or gallbladder condition.
- Imaging – X-rays, ultrasounds, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) can produce detailed images of the gallbladder to help a physician look for and evaluate suspicious areas.
- Cholangiography – This type of imaging can reveal blockages in the bile ducts that might be caused by tumors.
- Angiography – Before images are taken, a small amount of contrast dye is injected into an artery to illuminate the blood vessels and help reveal blockages.
- Tumor markers – High levels of certain proteins, such as CEA and CA 19-9, may be found in the blood when gallbladder cancer reaches an advanced stage.
The scientists and clinicians at Moffitt Cancer Center are continually evaluating new screening techniques that have the potential to detect gallbladder cancer as early as possible. Working together, these experts are gaining a greater understanding of the condition with a goal of one day curing it.