How is gallbladder cancer diagnosed?
The gallbladder lies deep inside the body which is why it cannot be felt during a routine physical exam. Hence, the cancer type is often detected unexpectedly, either when the gallbladder is removed to treat gallstones or for some other condition.
Individuals who have symptoms that suggest they may have gallbladder cancer, it’s important they visit their doctor and get examined.
The doctor will look for signs of gallbladder cancer during physical examination. It will focus mostly on the abdomen to check for any lumps, tenderness, or fluid build-up.
Sometimes, cancer of the gallbladder also spreads to lymph nodes, causing a lump that can be felt beneath the skin. Lymph nodes above the collarbone and in several other locations may also be checked.
But if the doctor suspects of any symptoms that suggest gallbladder cancer, further diagnostic tests will be prescribed.
These tests might include lab tests, imaging tests, and other procedures such as:
Blood Tests: Tests of liver and gallbladder function are usually done to find out how much bilirubin is in the blood.
Bilirubin is the chemical that causes jaundice. Problems in the gallbladder, bile ducts, or liver can raise the blood level of bilirubin.
The doctor may also do other tests for albumin, liver enzymes and other substances in the blood. These are called liver function tests and often help to diagnose liver, bile duct, or gallbladder diseases.
Tumor Markers: Tumor markers are substances made by cancer cells that can sometimes be found in the blood. People with gallbladder cancer may have high blood levels of the markers called CEA and CA 19-9.
Usually the blood levels of these markers are high only when the cancer is in an advanced stage. These markers are not specific for gallbladder cancer – that is, other cancers or even some other health conditions can sometimes make them go up.
Imaging Tests: X-rays, MRIs, CT Scans, Ultrasound, etc., are used to create pictures of the inside body. These imagining tests are crucial as these help to look for suspicious areas that might be cancerous or find out how far the cancer has spread and to help a doctor guide a biopsy needle into a suspicious area to take a sample for testing and to help make treatment decisions.
These imaging tests include:
Ultrasound: Ultrasound uses sound waves and their echoes to create images of the inside of the body which are converted by a computer into an image on a screen.