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What to Know About Gallbladder Polyps

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 07, 2021

Gallbladder polyps are small growths that are found on your gallbladder. Most of them are noncancerous (benign).

What Are Gallbladder Polyps?

Your gallbladder is part of your digestive system. It’s a small pouch-like organ that sits below your liver. It stores bile and releases it into your small intestine.

About 95% of gallbladder polyps are benign or noncancerous. The distinction between noncancerous and cancerous polyps may be difficult. Doctors tend to rely on the size of your gallbladder polyp to help them predict if it’s cancerous or not. Typically, polyps less than ½ inch (just over 1 centimeter) in diameter are unlikely to be cancerous and may not need treatment.

Those that have a diameter longer than ¾ inch (about 2 centimeters) may have a higher likelihood of being or becoming cancerous (malignant). But only about 5% of gallbladder polyps are cancerous.

About 4% to 7% of people may develop gallbladder polyps. It’s more common in older adults. The average age of diagnosis is about 49 years old.

Children may also get these polyps, but these are rare cases.

Gallbladder polyps are different from gallstones. Gallstones can move around, but polyps are fixed to the wall of your gallbladder.

Causes of Gallbladder Polyps

The exact cause of gallbladder polyps hasn’t been determined. Some studies have been carried out to find out the risk factors, but they haven’t been conclusive.

Other studies have suggested that there may be links to conditions such as hepatitis B, Gardner syndrome, and familial polyposis. But these aren’t conclusive links, either.

There may also be a possible link to fat metabolism, but more studies are needed.

Symptoms of Gallbladder Polyps

Many people with gallbladder polyps don’t show any symptoms.

But some people may experience:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Occasional pain in the right upper part of your abdomen (hypochondrium).

Because most people with gallbladder polyps have no symptoms, it’s often diagnosed when your doctor treats you for another condition.

Gallbladder imaging may be ordered:

  • As part of a regular abdominal checkup 
  • If you have symptoms in your upper abdomen
  • If your doctor suspects gallbladder disease

Imaging is rarely done with the intention to find gallbladder polyps, but tests to check for them include: 

Treatment for Gallbladder Polyps

If you don’t have symptoms and your polyps are small, your doctor may recommend yearly ultrasounds.

If you have polyps that are 1 centimeter (0.4 inches) or larger, or if ultrasounds show that your polyps are getting bigger, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove your gallbladder. This surgery is called a cholecystectomy.

Your doctor may also recommend surgery if you have other risks for gallbladder cancer, such as older age or a genetic disease that involves scarring of bile ducts and inflammation ( primary sclerosing cholangitis).

Getting early treatment is important for gallbladder polyps. The 5-year survival rate is about 80% in people who have stage 0 gallbladder cancer. But for stage I gallbladder cancer, the 5-year survival rate drops to about 50%.

Preventing Gallbladder Polyps

Experts haven’t determined the exact cause of gallbladder polyps. But you can make some lifestyle changes to lower your overall cancer risk. These include:

Eating a well-balanced diet. Some guidelines for a healthy diet include: 

  • Limit the amount of processed meats that you eat. Research shows that eating a lot of processed meat can increase your risk of certain cancers.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation. 
  • Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. 

Exercising regularly. Adding some moderate to vigorous physical activity into your daily life can lower your risk of cancer and other chronic diseases. Exercise may also help you to maintain a healthy weight. It also lowers your risk for certain types of cancer. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day. 

Seeing your doctor regularly. Getting regular screenings can help you discover cancer early. Treatment is most likely to be successful in early stages of cancer. Talk to your doctor to find out more about cancer screening tests

Not smoking. Smoking and chewing tobacco are linked to different types of cancer. Avoid secondhand smoke, too. Talk to your doctor if you need help quitting tobacco

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: “Transabdominal ultrasound and endoscopic ultrasound for diagnosis of gallbladder polyps.”

Comprehensive Physiology: “Functions of the Gallbladder.”

East African Medical Journal: “Prevalence and risk factors for gall bladder polyps.”

Jones, M.W., Deppen, J.G. Gallbladder Polyp, StatPearls Publishing, 2021.

Journal of Pediatric Surgery: “Gallbladder polyps in children—classification and management."

Mayo Clinic: “Cancer prevention: 7 tips to reduce your risk,” “Gallbladder polyps: Can they be cancerous?”

North American Journal of Medical Sciences: “Diagnosis and Management of Gallbladder Polyps.”

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