Some gallbladder cancers are found after the gallbladder has been removed to treat gallstones or chronic (long-term) inflammation. Gallbladders removed for those reasons are always looked at under a microscope to see if they contain cancer cells.
Most gallbladder cancers, though, are not found until a person goes to a doctor because they have symptoms.
If you have any signs or symptoms that suggest you might have gallbladder cancer, your doctor will want to take a complete medical history to check for risk factors and to learn more about your symptoms.
Your doctor will examine you to look for signs of gallbladder cancer and other health problems. The exam will focus mostly on the abdomen to check for any lumps, tenderness, or buildup of fluid. The skin and the white part of the eyes will be checked for jaundice (a yellowish color). Sometimes, cancer of the gallbladder 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 be examined carefully.
If symptoms and/or the physical exam suggest you might have gallbladder cancer, other tests will be done. These might include lab tests, imaging tests, and other procedures.
Tests of liver and gallbladder function: Your doctor may order lab tests to find out how much bilirubin is in the blood. Bilirubin is the chemical that gives the bile its yellow color. Problems in the gallbladder, bile ducts, or liver can raise the blood level of bilirubin. A high bilirubin level tells the doctor that there may be gallbladder, bile duct, or liver problems.
The doctor may also order tests for other substances in your blood, such as albumin, alkaline phosphatase, AST, ALT, and GGT, which can also be abnormal if you have liver, bile duct, or gallbladder disease. These are sometimes referred to as liver function tests.
Tumormarkers : CEA and CA 19-9 are tumor markers (proteins found in the blood when certain cancers are present). High levels of these substances are often (but not always) found in people with gallbladder cancer. 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 cause high levels.
These tests can sometimes be useful after a person is diagnosed with gallbladder cancer. If the levels of these markers are found to be high, they can be followed over time to help tell how well treatment is working.
Imaging tests use x-rays, magnetic fields, or sound waves to create pictures of the inside of your body. Imaging tests can be done for a number of reasons, including:
People who have (or might have) gallbladder cancer may have one or more of the following tests
Ultrasound :For this test, a small instrument called a transducer gives off sound waves and picks up their echoes as they bounce off organs inside the body. The echoes are converted by a computer into an image on a screen. The patterns of echoes can help find tumors and show how far they have grown into nearby areas.
Abdominal ultrasound: This is often the first imaging test done in people who have symptoms (such as jaundice or pain in the right upper part of their abdomen) that might be caused by gallbladder problems.
This is an easy test to have done, and it uses no radiation. You simply lie on a table while the doctor or ultrasound technician moves the transducer (which is shaped like a wand) along the skin over the right upper abdomen. Usually, the skin is first lubricated with gel.