Conditions & Treatments

Gallbladder Cancer

Gallbladder cancer is a rare type of cancer that starts in the inside lining cells of the gallbladder.

What is Gallbladder Cancer?

Gallbladder cancer is a rare type of cancer that starts in the inside lining cells of the gallbladder. The gallbladder is a hollow sack located under the right side of the liver. Its job is to concentrate and store digestive juices (bile) made by the liver.

Gallbladder cancer is caused by abnormal cells that grow and multiply without control. The abnormal cells form a lump, or tumor, that can grow large. The cancer cells can invade the other layers of the gallbladder and grow into nearby tissues.

Cancer cells can also break away from the original tumor and travel to other parts of the body through the lymph or blood vessels. When this happens, the cancer cells start a new area of cancer in a different part of the body.

What are the symptoms of gallbladder cancer?

  • pain in the right upper part of the abdomen
  • poor appetite
  • weight loss (without dieting)
  • a lump in the right upper part of the abdomen
  • fatigue from anemia (low blood count)
  • yellow color of the skin and eyes from jaundice

Some of these symptoms can have other causes and should be checked by a doctor.

How is gallbladder cancer diagnosed?

  • blood tests - complete blood count (CBC) and liver function tests may be helpful
  • abdominal ultrasound - ultrasound imaging uses sound waves to make a picture of the gallbladder to show its size, shape, thickness, and whether or not it contains gallstones or a tumor.
  • CT scan - a series of X-rays are taken in thin cross-sections across the abdomen. The X-rays create pictures of the liver, gallbladder, and other abdominal organs in layers. It is an excellent way to find a tumor and whether it has spread.
  • MRI - magnetic resonance imaging is similar to CT scans, but it uses strong magnets instead of X-rays to make the cross-sectional pictures of the organs.
  • MRCP - magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatogram is a special MRI that takes thin cross-section pictures across the abdomen. An IV is used to put some dye in the blood system. The dye outlines blood vessels and the bile ducts. An MRCP can show details of cancer in the gallbladder and other abdominal organs.

Treatment for gallbladder cancer

The goal of cancer treatment is to get rid of cancer cells in the body and to stop more cancer cells from growing. Treatment is determined by the type of cancer and whether it has spread, the age of the patient, patient preference, and any associated medical conditions.

Treatment is planned by a team of cancer specialists who review a variety of test results. There are three main types of cancer treatment. These treatments may be used alone or in combination.

  • Surgery: during surgery the tumor is removed. After surgery, other cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation, may be used to kill any cancer cells that could be left behind.
  • Radiation therapy: uses high energy radioactive beams or particles to kill the cancer cells or stop them from growing.
  • Chemotherapy: uses medicine to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing. There are many chemotherapy drugs which can be given in different ways (into a vein or by mouth), given in combination, or given one after the other.

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