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gall bladder, cancer of

A relatively rare malignant tumour, more common in women than men. There may be a connection with gallstones, but this is not certain. It tends to be discovered at a late stage, because symptoms are slow to show. The first symptom is usually increasingly severe jaundice, because the tumour inhibits the flow of bile. This is associated with pain in the upper abdomen, poor appetite and loss of weight, and possibly fever and cold shivers. Physical examination reveals swelling of the gall bladder, and sometimes enlargement of the liver because of the bile blockage. The bile ducts can be examined on an X-ray by introduction of contrast material via a skin puncture, or by a probe from the duodenum. Treatment is seldom successful because the tumour is usually too large when discovered, or has metastasized to too great an extent. The symptoms should be treated, particularly the itching caused by accumulation of acid bile salts in the blood, which can be very irksome; a drain can be placed so that the bile can flow into the intestine.

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