These small growths commonly found on the gallbladder are often made up of cholesterol – but they can also be cancerous.
Gallbladder polyps are considered a fairly common condition. And while most of the time gallbladder polyps are nothing to be concerned about, some of them can be cancerous.
What are the Gallbladder Polyps
The majority of gallbladder polyps are harmless — composed of cholesterol buildup, not cancer cells. But, gallbladder polyps may actually be small tumors — some of which may be cancerous while others are benign growths. These small growths can poke out from the inside of the gallbladder wall.
When it comes to gallbladder polyps, size definitely matters: The larger the polyp, the greater the risk of gallbladder cancer. Polyps that are larger than 1 centimeter are most likely to be cancerous, while those smaller than that are unlikely to be — or to eventually become — cancerous.
Gallbladder polyps may not cause any symptoms at all. But they may cause biliary colic (abdominal pain coming from the gallbladder). This type of pain is often caused by gallstones, but if they are not found, gallbladder polyps may be to blame.
Gallbladder Polyps: Diagnosis
To get a good look at the gallbladder, an ultrasound is typically performed. Gallbladder polyps will usually be seen on an ultrasound, and their size (and how potentially dangerous they might be) can then be measured.
Positron emission tomography (PET) or computed tomography (CT) scans can help evaluate the likelihood of cancerous cells in larger gallbladder polyps. These tests can both be used to monitor gallbladder polyps over time to spot any suspicious changes that could indicate gallbladder cancer.
Very small polyps, those less than 1 centimeter (or less than 1.5 cm, according to some studies) may not need gallbladder removal surgery, and instead can be regularly monitored by scanning and re-evaluated for any suspicious changes that could indicate gallbladder cancer.
Polyps larger than 1 centimeter in size are more likely to become cancerous, especially those that are 1.5 centimeter across and larger — they have a 46 to 70 percent chance of containing cancer cells.