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Gallbladder cancer can be difficult to detect in its early stages, mainly because this type of malignancy does not produce any specific symptoms. Additionally, because the gallbladder is a relatively small organ located deep within the body, any signs of cancer such as lumps or fluid build-up can easily go unnoticed. For these reasons, it is important to pay close attention to any unusual health changes, such as jaundice, unexplained weight loss or persistent pain in the upper-right midsection, and to promptly consult with a physician who can confirm or rule out a gallbladder cancer diagnosis.

How do they test for gallbladder cancer?

If a physician has reason to suspect gallbladder cancer, he or she may:

  • Review the patient’s medical history
  • Perform a thorough physical examination
  • Order imaging tests, such as X-rays, CT scans or MRI scans
  • Order blood tests

Can a blood test detect gallbladder cancer?

As part of the diagnostic process, a physician may evaluate the results of certain blood tests, including:

Liver and gallbladder function tests

Lab testing can reveal the amount of bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin, an orange-yellow chemical that occurs naturally as red blood cells break down, passes through the digestive tract before being excreted by the body. An elevated level of bilirubin in the blood can signal a problem in the gallbladder, liver or bile ducts.

Tumor markers

Gallbladder cancer cells sometimes produce certain substances, or tumor markers, known as CEA and CA 19-9. Excessive amounts of these markers may accumulate in the blood when cancer is present.

While a high blood level of bilirubin, CEA or CA 19-9 may indicate the need for further testing, it’s important to note that these results simply inform the diagnostic process. No single blood test can be used on its own to conclusively confirm a gallbladder cancer diagnosis.

If you recently received a gallbladder cancer diagnosis and would like some expert advice, turn to Moffitt Cancer Center. Through our renowned Gastrointestinal Oncology Program, you can benefit from a wide range of treatment and supportive care services in a single location without referrals. To request an appointment, call 1-888-663-3488 or complete our new patient registration form online.