Gallbladder cancerPatient friendly summary

  • Solar UVB light may reduce the risk of gallbladder cancer by producing vitamin D.
  • Vitamin D may reduce the risk of gallbladder cancer in several ways. This includes regulating cell and tumor growth.

The gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ below the liver. It collects and stores bile. This is a fluid made by the liver to digest fat. Sometimes cancer forms in the tissues of the gallbladder.

Each year, gallbladder cancer affects about 9,000 people in the United States and kills about 3000. Women have a much higher risk of this disease than men.

Risk factors

Risk factors for gallbladder cancer include:

  • Chronic inflammation: Cholesterol can turn into gallstones. This causes chronic inflammation in more than 75% of gallbladder cancer patients.
  • Diet: High carbohydrate intake and low vegetable intake
  • Infections
  • Obesity

Gallbladder cancer arises in the setting of chronic inflammation. In the vast majority of patients (>75%), the source of this chronic inflammation is cholesterol gallstones. Diet plays an important role, with high energy and carbohydrate intake and low vegetable intake associated with risk. Infections are also an important risk factor. Obesity is also an important risk factor.

Sunlight exposure and gallbladder cancer risk

In Japan and the United States, high ultraviolet-B (UVB) levels have been linked to lower risk of gallbladder cancer.

Diagnosis or death from nonmelanoma skin cancer (NMSC) may be used as an index for long-term UVB exposure. In Spain and other sunnier countries, lower gallbladder cancer rates were noted in people who died from NMSC.

Vitamin D and gallbladder cancer

Vitamin D levels

There have been no reported studies of the relationship between vitamin D level and risk of gallbladder cancer.

How vitamin D works

Vitamin D reduces cancer risk by regulating:

  • Cell growth
  • Differentiation of cells to adapt to the various organs
  • Apoptosis (programmed cell suicide)
  • A wide range of cellular mechanisms central to cancer development
  • Tumor growth and spreading

Prevention

There have been no reported studies of vitamin D levels and risk of gallbladder cancer.

However, based on studies of vitamin D and breast and colorectal cancers, gallbladder cancer may react to vitamin D in a similar manner. Vitamin D levels greater than 40 ng/mL (100 nmol/L) may lower the risk of gallbladder cancer by about 30% compared to levels less than 20 ng/mL (50 nmol/L).

Treatment

There have been no reported studies of treating gallbladder cancer with vitamin D.

However, studies compared people at the time of cancer diagnosis for six types of cancer. Those with higher (30 ng/mL [75 nmol/L]) vitamin D levels had about half the mortality rate of those with lower (20 ng/mL [50 nmol/L]) levels. Thus, increasing vitamin D levels after diagnosis of gallbladder cancer might improve disease outcome.

Find out more…

We will be adding a detailed evidence summary on this topic in the near future.  Please check back soon to find out more.

Page last edited: 05 August 2011