How diet, nutrition and physical activity affect gallbladder cancer risk. In total, we analysed 14 studies from around the world, comprising nearly 13 million men and women and about 8,300 cases of gallbladder cancer.
The gallbladder is a small sac-like organ that forms part of the biliary tract. Bile, produced in the liver, flows into the gallbladder, where it is stored and concentrated until released into the small intestine. Approximately 90–95% of gallbladder cancers are adenocarcinomas, while only a small proportion are squamous cell carcinomas.
Our Expert Panel has reviewed the evidence on diet, weight, physical activity and the risk of gallbladder cancer.
There is strong evidence that:
Other causes, with the exception of gallstones, have not been established.
The pathogenesis of gallbladder cancer is not well understood, partly because it is often diagnosed at a late stage. Having gallstones increases the risk of this cancer. Inflammation associated with gallstones decreases the speed at which bile empties from the gallbladder; gallstones may also have a direct effect by blocking the transit of bile or by causing direct mechanical irritation to the surrounding mucosal surface.
Other factors may also be involved, and many toxins, whether they come from diet, smoke inhalation or other environmental sources (and their metabolic products), are excreted and concentrated in the bile.
The precise way in which body fatness, obesity, or energy balance specifically influence the risk of gallbladder cancer needs more research.
Obesity is a known cause of gallstone formation and having gallstones increases the risk of gallbladder cancer.
Other more general factors may be involved. Body fatness increases the levels of hormones circulating in the body – such as insulin and insulin-like growth factors – creating an environment that may encourage the development or progression of cancer in a variety of organs.
Body fat also stimulates a general inflammatory response, which may contribute to the development of several cancers.
Full references and a summary of the mechanisms underpinning all the findings can be found in the gallbladder cancer report.
In 2018, World Cancer Research Fund International published Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: a Global Perspective on behalf of AICR, WCRF and WKOF. This was the third in our series of major reports looking at the many ways in which our diets, and how active we are, affect our cancer risk. You can find out much more about gallbladder cancer by downloading a pdf of the relevant chapter in the 2018 report. Please note, however, that this webpage may have been updated since the report was published.