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How to treat gall bladder cancer

The gall bladder is a small organ that is concealed by the liver and performs non-essential tasks such as fat digestion and concentrating bile produced by the liver. However, even though the body can, if required, cope without it, this organ is susceptible to gall bladder cancer, particularly in women, and can be notoriously difficult to treat if found too late. Unfortunately, symptoms of gall bladder cancer (also known as gallbladder or biliary cancer) usually appear only late in the disease and even then can be mistaken for more common ailments.

Treatment for early diagnosis

If found early, gall bladder cancer survival rates are higher but this depends on several factors. For instance, if the cancer is localised and hasn't spread to other parts of the body, a gall bladder operation to remove the organ is preferred (this is known as cholecystectomy). To ensure that it hasn't spread, part of the liver and lymph node are also removed. Ironically, the patients who have the best chance of survival are those for whom the gall bladder has been removed in order to deal with stones, and early stage cancer has been found incidentally. With respect to later stage cancer however, many patients die within a year of surgery. However, this is also influenced by the type of gall bladder cancer, which can be determined by miscroscopic analysis, and whether the cancer has recurred.

Treatment for late diagnosis

Sometimes, surgery is impossible. In this case, a small tube is inserted through an endoscope and into the biliary tree in order to reduce jaundice. Similar stenting of the gut may ease vomiting. Other gall bladder treatments with surgery include chemotherapy and radiation but most gall bladder cancer symptoms appear so late that there's usually little or no hope for the patient. In this case, reducing suffering and relieving symptoms becomes
paramount: palliative care is the best option. This is defined as treatment that is used whether or not it's curative - the main objective is to ensure the quality of life for the patient and his or her family. It involves a combination of spiritual and psychological methods but as it can be used in conjunction with curative treatments - such as chemotherapy - medical solutions, such as morphine to relieve pain, are still important.

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