Gallbladder Cancer Prevention

Medically Reviewed by Gabriela Pichardo, MD on June 12, 2022
3 min read

Gallbladder cancer is quite rare. Fewer than 5,000 Americans are diagnosed with it each year. That’s about 1% of all cancer types.

But gallbladder cancers are among the most lethal. Fewer than 1 in 5 people diagnosed with it live more than 5 years, compared to their cancer-free peers. That’s far deadlier than the 5-year relative survival rate of 90% for breast cancer or 65% for colon cancer.

One reason why gallbladder cancer is so hard to beat is that it’s usually caught very late. This small organ is tucked away in the upper right side of your belly under your liver. It acts as a storage sac for bile, a fluid that helps your body digest food.

You can have gallbladder cancer and not know it. Symptoms like fever, pain, nausea, vomiting, or bloating often don’t show up until the disease has advanced. Some 80% of gallbladder cancers are found after the tumors have grown outside the organ.

No routine screening tests can spot gallbladder cancer. And many tumors can be tough to spot on imaging tests such as ultrasounds or CT scans.

Catching the cancer early greatly improves your odds of survival. More than 6 out of 10 people whose gallbladder cancer was diagnosed before it spread can expect to live at least 5 years.

A mix of your genes, background, and lifestyle can raise your chances of having gallbladder cancer.

Gallstones. As many as 80% of people who’re diagnosed with gallbladder cancer have gallstones, hardened lumps of cholesterol and other substances. But lots of people have gallstones, yet very few get gallbladder cancer.

Extra weight. Being overweight or obese makes you more likely to get this cancer. Being heavy also is a risk factor for gallstones.

Gender. Gallbladder cancer is found slightly more often in women than in men.

Age. Your chances for gallbladder cancer rise as you age. Most people who are diagnosed with it are 65 or older.

Race and ethnicity. In the U.S., gallbladder cancer is most common among Mexican Americans, Native Americans, and Latinos. African Americans are least likely to get it. Gallbladder cancer can run in families.

Inflammation. Certain conditions, including porcelain gallbladder and gallbladder polyps, may lead to gallbladder cancer in part because of their link to inflammation.

Prevention is key because gallbladder cancer can be hard to treat. You can’t change your age, gender, or other things that put you at higher risk. But you can take some steps to help lower your odds.

Keep a healthy weight. Extra fat may fuel cancer growth by raising levels of inflammation and certain hormones in your body. Losing extra weight is one of the most important things you can do to help avoid all types of cancer.

Eat healthfully. Lean toward more plant-based foods, including fresh vegetables and fruits. Limit red meat and processed meats like hotdogs and salami. Choose whole grains like brown rice and whole-wheat pasta.

Limit alcohol. Have no more than one drink a day if you’re a woman and two or less if you’re a man.

Don’t smoke.

If you’ve been diagnosed with porcelain gallbladder, when the wall of the gallbladder is covered with calcium deposits, talk to your doctor about whether it’s a good idea to take out your gallbladder with surgery. Sometimes the benefits may not be worth the risks.