An early diagnosis of gallbladder cancer is difficult since the early stages of the cancer go unnoticed due to the lack of specific signs or symptoms. The clinical features produced by gallbladder are mimicked by a number of other conditions. Early symptoms mime gallbladder inflammation due to gallstones. The later symptoms are similar to those produced by biliary and stomach obstruction.
The cancer may be an incidental finding when the gallbladder is removed for other reasons or if an ultrasound may show a mass in the gall-bladder.
Diagnosis begins with physical examination and elicitation of history. Signs of the disease, such as lumps are searched for.Once suspected an ultrasound
examination of the abdomen helps in diagnosis gallbladder cancer. Other Imaging techniques employed include:
ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography): This aids in visualising the duct system that carry bile
PTC: Percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography is used to x-ray the liver and bile ducts
Laparoscopy aids in direct visualisation of organs
Blood tests- Liver function tests
are performed to know if the liver has been affected due to gallbladder cancer.
Levels of Carcinoembryonic Antigen (CEA)
are checked for. CEA is a protein produced by both cancer cells and normal cells. Higher levels of CEA may indicate gallbladder cancer or other conditions.
Another similar test is CA 19-9 assay
. CEA and CA 19-9 are referred to as ‘tumour markers’.