What Are Polyps in the Gallbladder?

An ultrasound test recently found a small formation of polyps in my gallbladder. Should I be concerned?

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Polyps in the gallbladder are not uncommon. In fact, it is estimated that as many as 4 percent of gallbladders examined by ultrasound will have evidence of polyp formation.

Unlike the more common colon polyps, the finding of gallbladder polyps does not necessarily imply that one is at increased risk for cancer. The vast majority (95 percent) of all gallbladder polyps do not give rise to gallbladder cancer. They consist of cholesterol, muscle tissue or inflammatory tissue. The minority are adenomatous polyps, which like the typical colon polyps can progress to cancer. It is believed that the risk of cancer in an adenomatous gallbladder polyp is related to its size, with those larger than one centimeter being at high risk.

Gallbladder polyps are usually discovered when an ultrasound exam is done for other reasons, such as abdominal pain. The polyps rarely lead to symptoms. Obviously, short of removing the gallbladder surgically, there is no way to tell if a gallbladder polyp has adenomatous features or if it is the more common noncancerous type. Often the gallbladder is taken out anyway for reasons related to stones, which probably caused the pain or other symptoms that led to the ultrasound in the first place.

There is a great deal of controversy in the management of an asymptomatic patient who is discovered to have a gallbladder polyp. Many experts feel that if the polyp is greater than one centimeter in size, then the gallbladder should be removed. In your case, although you did not state if you are having symptoms related to the gallbladder, you should follow up with a surgeon to discuss the finding of the polyp on the ultrasound. After reviewing both the ultrasound and your symptoms, the surgeon can make an informed decision regarding the course of action to recommend.

by Ronen Arai

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