Gallbladder cancer: a morphological and molecular update


R D Goldin, Department of Histopathology, Imperial College Faculty of Medicine at St Mary’s, London, UK. e-mail:


Gallbladder cancer (GBC) shows a marked geographical variation in its incidence, with the highest figures being seen in India and Chile and relatively low levels in many Western countries. Risk factors for its development include the presence of gallstones, infection and the presence of an anomalous pancreatobiliary ductal junction. It can arise from either a pathway involving metaplasia or dysplasia or one in which there is a pre-existing adenoma. The former is the more common and, because it is often not associated with a macroscopically recognizable lesion, leads to the recommendation that all gallbladders need to be examined microscopically. Accurate staging of invasive cancers is essential to determine prognosis and treatment, and this requires extensive tumour sampling. A number of genetic alterations have been identified in the preinvasive and invasive stages of GBC and they support the morphological evidence of there being two pathways by which tumours develop. Some of these genetic changes are associated with particular risk factors. For example, cases with anomalous pancreatobiliary ductal junction show a higher frequency of K-ras mutations. Some changes are associated with differences in prognosis. For example, cancers without expression of p21 but with expression for p27 have a better prognosis, whereas those that express c-erb-B2 have a worse one. Work has also been done on identifying clinical, imaging and other factors that indicate that patients have a higher risk of having GBC. This is particularly important in high-incidence areas in which GBC is a significant public health problem.