Gallbladder Cancer: Risk Factors

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 10/2021

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about the factors that increase the chance of gallbladder cancer. Use the menu to see other pages.

A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing cancer. Although risk factors often influence the development of cancer, most do not directly cause cancer. Some people with several risk factors never develop cancer, while others with no known risk factors do. Knowing your risk factors and talking about them with your doctor may help you make more informed lifestyle and health care choices.

The following factors can raise a person's risk of developing gallbladder cancer:

  • Gallstones. Gallstones are the most common risk factor for gallbladder cancer. These are rock-like formations of cholesterol and bile salts that can occur in the gallbladder or bile duct. Gallstones are the most common digestive disease in the United States. Between 75% and 90% of people with gallbladder cancer have a history of gallstones. However, less than 1% of people with gallstones develop gallbladder cancer. It is unknown why some people develop cancer while most with gallstone disease do not.

  • Gallbladder polyps. This type of polyp is a growth that sometimes forms when small gallstones get embedded in the gallbladder wall. Gallbladder polyps bulge inward from the inner gallbladder wall. Some polyps may also be caused by inflammation. Doctors often recommend gallbladder removal for people who have polyps larger than 1 centimeter because these are more likely to be cancerous.

  • Age. Most people diagnosed with gallbladder cancer are older than 70.

  • Gender. Women are about twice as likely to develop gallbladder cancer as men.

  • Ethnicity. Mexican Americans and Native Americans, particularly in the southwestern United States, are more likely to develop gallbladder cancer than the general population.

  • Smoking. Tobacco use may increase the risk of gallbladder cancer.

  • Family history. A family history of gallbladder cancer slightly increases a person’s risk of developing gallbladder cancer.

The next section in this guide is Symptoms and Signs. It explains what body changes or medical problems gallbladder cancer can cause. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.