Gallbladder cancer is the growth of abnormal cells in the gallbladder.
The gallbladder is part of your digestive system. The liver makes bile that helps your body break down the fat in food, and ducts carry bile to the gallbladder. The gallbladder is a small sac under your liver on your right side that stores bile.
The sooner cancer is found and treated, the better your chances for recovery. However, even advanced cancer can usually be treated. Treatment may slow or stop the growth of the cancer and ease symptoms for a time. Ask your healthcare provider what you can expect with the type of cancer that you have.
What is the cause?
The cause of gallbladder cancer is not known. Most people who have gallbladder cancer also have gallstones. However, even if you have gallstones, the risk of getting cancer is very low.
What are the symptoms?
Gallbladder cancer often has no symptoms. When there are symptoms, they may include:
Loss of appetite
Unexplained weight loss
Nausea and vomiting
Pain or discomfort in the upper right side of the abdomen
Yellowing of your skin and whites of your eyes caused by bile building up in the body
Itching of the skin
What is metastasis?
The spread of cancer cells from one part of the body to other parts is called metastasis. What causes cancer to spread is not known. Cancer cells can:
Grow into the area around the tumor
Travel to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or the lymph system. The lymph system is part of your body’s system for fighting infection. The lymph system consists of lymph nodes that store blood cells (lymphocytes) to fight infection and vessels that carry fluid, nutrients, and wastes between your body and your bloodstream. New tumors then grow in these other areas.
When gallbladder cancer spreads, it most often affects the liver, stomach, or intestines. Sometimes your first symptoms of cancer are in the part of the body where the cancer has spread. The symptoms of gallbladder cancer that has spread to another part of your body depend on where the tumors are. The spread of cancer to the liver can block the flow of bile, which causes many of the symptoms of gallbladder cancer.
How is it diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you.
Tests may include:
CT scan, which uses X-rays and a computer to show detailed pictures of your gallbladder
Ultrasound, which uses sound waves to show pictures of your gallbladder
Gallbladder cancer may be found during surgery to remove gallstones.
How is it treated?
Some things to think about when making treatment decisions are:
Your overall health
The stage of the cancer (how advanced the cancer is)
Whether the cancer has spread to other parts of your body
Possible treatments are:
Surgery to remove the gallbladder, the part of the liver touched by the gallbladder, and nearby lymph nodes.
Surgery to relieve blockage in the gallbladder and bile duct
Chemotherapy (anticancer drugs), which uses medicine to kill cancer cells
Radiation therapy, which uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells
Your treatment will also include:
Controlling pain or other symptoms you may have
Controlling the side effects from treatments
Helping you manage your life with cancer
Often, more than 1 treatment is used. After treatment, you will need to have regular follow-up visits with your healthcare provider.
Ask your healthcare provider about clinical trials that might be available to you. Clinical trials are research studies to find effective cancer treatments. Itâ€™s always your choice whether you take part in one or not.
How can I take care of myself?
If you have been diagnosed with gallbladder cancer:
Talk about your cancer and treatment options with your healthcare provider. Make sure you understand your choices.
Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider.
Ask your healthcare provider:
How and when you will hear your test results
How long it will take to recover
What activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
How to take care of yourself at home
What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them
Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.
Other things that may help include:
Eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise as recommended by your healthcare provider.
Get plenty of rest.
Try to reduce stress and take time for activities that you enjoy. It may help to talk with a counselor about your illness.
Talk with your family and your healthcare providers about your concerns. Ask your healthcare provider any questions you have about the disease, treatments, side effects of the treatments, sexuality, support groups, and anything else that concerns you.
If you smoke, try to quit.
Ask your provider if you need to avoid drinking alcohol. It may interfere with medicines you are taking. Alcohol can also make it harder for white blood cells to fight infections.
Tell your provider if your treatment causes discomfort. Usually there are ways to help you be more comfortable.
How can I help prevent the cancer from spreading or coming back?
Complete the full course of radiation, hormone, or chemotherapy treatments recommended by your healthcare provider
See your healthcare provider right away if you notice a return of any previous signs or symptoms or develop any new ones.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth. Last modified: 2014-05-29 Last reviewed: 2014-03-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Gallbladder Cancer: References
Augustine MM, Fong Y. Epidemiology and Risk Factors of Biliary Tract and Primary Liver Tumors. Surg Oncol Clin N Am. 2014 Apr;23(2):171-188