February is Gallbladder and Bile Duct Cancer Awareness Month. The gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ located just below the liver, behind the right lower rib, and in adults is usually 3 to 4 inches long and about 1 inch wide.
The gallbladder stores and concentrates bile, which helps digest fats in food as it passes into the small intestine. Bile is either released from the liver and passed through bile ducts directly to the small intestine, or is stored in the gallbladder and released later when food is being digested. The gallbladder, then, is essentially an aid in the digestive process — but in reality it isn’t even needed and can be removed without consequence. Removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy) is a common treatment for patients with gallstones or chronic inflammation of the gallbladder. With laparoscopic cholecystectomy, the surgeon inserts a thin tube that has a small video camera attached at the end through a small surgical cut in the abdomen and removes the gallbladder with long surgical tools that are inserted through other small incisions. Many people are living perfectly normal lives today who have no gallbladder.
So, if the gallbladder isn’t even necessary, why is it important to know anything about it?
This year approximately 10,650 people in the United States will be diagnosed with gallbladder cancer, and of those, approximately 3630— or, slightly more than one-third—will die. During routine exams, early gallbladder tumors typically go undetected, not only because the gallbladder is deep inside the body, making it so that the early tumors are not palpable, but also because the tumors cause no real pain until the cancer has spread (metastasized) beyond the gallbladder itself. When gallbladder cancer is detected early (stage I), which rarely occurs, the 5-year survival rate is 80%. When the cancer is detected in stages III or IV, that survival rate drops to 2% to 7%. Although gallbladder cancer itself is relatively rare, in the United States it is the fifth most frequent gastrointestinal cancer and the most common hepatobiliary cancer, accounting for 46% of these cancers. The number one risk factor for gallbladder cancer is gallstones. Gallstones themselves are common, and among persons diagnosed with gallbladder cancer, 75% have had gallstones. Other frequent risk factors for gallbladder cancer include gallbladder polyps, Native- or Mexican-American descent, age >65 years, female gender (doubled likelihood), family history of gallbladder cancer, bile duct abnormality, overweight/obesity, and porcelain gallbladder, a common condition in which the walls of the gallbladder become lined with calcium. Gallbladder cancer symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, jaundice, abdominal swelling or lumps, loss of appetite or weight loss, fever, itchy skin, or dark urine.
Bile duct cancer signs and symptoms are very similar to those of gallbladder cancer and its prevalence is approximately 33% less than that of gallbladder cancer.
February is dedicated to informing, educating, and communicating about these two types of rare cancers, and there are any number of ways that you can contribute toward battling these insidious diseases. Through social media accounts, you can pass along information about the causes, signs and symptoms, and risk factors of these diseases. Think about wearing an “awareness ribbon” for the month of February, and when people ask “Why the ribbon?” you can explain. Kelly green is the color for both the gallbladder and bile duct cancers. You can also volunteer for a local event. You can use the American Cancer Society’s event search tool http://www.cancer.org/involved/participate/app/event-search to locate related events near you.
About the Connexion Healthcare Oncology Center of Excellence
Connexion Healthcare’s Oncology Center of Excellence offers executive talent with decades of experience in the pharmaceutical industry. Our medical directors have conducted oncology research at leading institutions and major pharmaceutical companies. Our account leads have years of project execution expertise, and our medical editors are versed in the language of oncology. Our design leads are tops in their fields and ensure that your objectives are met effectively and even surpassed in an industry-eloquent and compliant manner. Our team works with you to conceive a strategy and execute communications through your product’s lifespan – from drug discovery through market launch and beyond. With particular expertise in phase 2 through postlaunch, we will engage with you wherever you are in development and whenever you need us.
For further information regarding the Oncology Center of Excellence at Connexion Healthcare and how we can develop oncology communications to differentiate therapies by their unique attributes, contact:
Larry Lunak, Senior Vice President