Background: Gallbladder wall calcifications, otherwise known as porcelain gallbladder, have received considerable attention due to its perceived association with gallbladder carcinoma. While the perception of a strong correlation persists, more recent reports raise conceivable doubts.
Study design: A systematic literature search was conducted of human studies describing gallbladder wall calcification and its association with gallbladder malignancy.
Results: The 111 articles which met inclusion criteria identified 340 patients with gallbladder wall calcification. Of the 340 patients, 72 (21 %) were diagnosed with malignancy of the gallbladder. When examining a subgroup of 13 studies (n = 124) without obvious selection bias, the rate of gallbladder malignancy was only 6 % (0-33 %) compared to 1 % (0-4 %) in a matched cohort of patients without gallbladder wall calcification (p = 0.036, relative risk 8.0 (95%CI 1.0-63.0)). Multivariate analysis identified the presence of symptoms typical for gallbladder cancer (odds ratio 83.6, 95%CI 2.3-2979.1, p = 0.015) and the presence of a gallbladder mass (odds ratio 3226.6, 95%CI 17.2-603884.8, p = 0.003) as the only independent prognostic factors for harboring gallbladder malignancy.
Conclusions: The risk of harboring gallbladder cancer in patients with gallbladder wall calcifications is lower than recently anticipated. The risk factors identified have only limited clinical value, since they are stigmatic for advanced gallbladder cancer. In the absence of better risk stratification and in the presence of a relative low rate of associated malignancy, prophylactic cholecystectomy appears appropriate for otherwise healthy patients; whereas a non-operative approach should be considered in patients with significant co-morbidity.