BACKGROUND - Jaundice as a presenting symptom of gallbladder cancer has traditionally been considered to be a sign of advanced disease, inoperability, and poor outcome. However, recent studies have demonstrated that a small subset of these patients can undergo resection with curative intent.
METHODS - Patients with gallbladder cancer managed surgically from 2000 to 2014 in 10 US academic institutions were stratified based on the presence of jaundice at presentation (defined as bilirubin ≥4 mg/ml or requiring preoperative biliary drainage). Perioperative morbidity, mortality, and overall survival were compared between jaundiced and non-jaundiced patients.
RESULTS - Of 400 gallbladder cancer patients with available preoperative data, 108 (27%) presented with jaundice while 292 (73%) did not. The fraction of patients who eventually underwent curative-intent resection was much lower in the presence of jaundice (n = 33, 30%) than not (n = 218, 75%; P < 0.001). Jaundiced patients experienced higher perioperative morbidity (69 vs. 38%; P = 0.002), including a much higher need for reoperation (12 vs. 1%; P = 0.003). However, 90-day mortality (6.5 vs. 3.6%; P = 0.35) was not significantly higher. Overall survival after resection was worse in jaundiced patients (median 14 vs. 32 months; P < 0.001). Further subgroup analysis within the jaundiced patients revealed a more favorable survival after resection in the presence of low CA19-9 < 50 (median 40 vs. 12 months; P = 0.003) and in the absence of lymphovascular invasion (40 vs. 14 months; P = 0.014).
CONCLUSION - Jaundice is a powerful preoperative clinical sign of inoperability and poor outcome among gallbladder cancer patients. However, some of these patients may still achieve long-term survival after resection, especially when preoperative CA19-9 levels are low and no lymphovascular invasion is noted pathologically.