The objective of this article is to review the available literature on the epidemiology, predisposing factors, and conditions associated with primary gallbladder cancer, and to discuss the role of prophylactic cholecystectomy in high-risk patient populations. Gallbladder cancer is a highly malignant tumor with a poor 5-yr-survival rate. It is a tumor of the elderly and has striking genetic, racial, and geographic characteristics, with an extremely high prevalence in Native Americans and Chileans. Cholelithiasis is a well-established risk factor for gallbladder cancer and the risk seems to correlate with stone size. Polyps that are >1 cm, single, sessile, and echopenic are associated with a higher risk of malignancy. Anomalous junction of pancreaticobiliary ducts (AJPBD), especially without choledochal cyst, and porcelain gallbladder are additional factors that predispose to gallbladder cancer. Lesser associations include chronic bacterial infections of the gallbladder, typhoid carrier state, certain occupational and environmental carcinogens, hormonal changes in women, and certain social, dietary, and familial factors. It is important to identify high-risk groups for gallbladder cancer because of the dismal nature of this tumor. In patients with porcelain gallbladder and anomalous junction of the pancreatic and biliary ducts, cholecystectomy is recommended provided that the patient is a good operative candidate. Patients with large solitary polyps or gallstones require close ultrasonic follow-up. With the advent of endoscopic ultrasound it is expected that early changes of malignancy in polyps will be reliably detected, and more patients will potentially be cured with a simple cholecystectomy. Through a MEDLINE/PAPERCHASE search we identified and reviewed articles regarding gallbladder cancer published in English-language journals between 1966 and 1999, using the key words biliary tract and gallbladder diseases, cancer, neoplasms, surgery, cholelithiasis, gallstones, cholecystitis, gallbladder polyps, risk factors, chemical industry, occupational diseases, typhoid, porcelain gallbladder, bacteremia, and precancerous conditions. We also used the bibliography of relevant articles to increase our search. A total of 122 publications were selected using the mentioned data source.