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About Gallbladder Cancer

Gallbladder cancer is a rare disease in which cancerous cells form in the tissues of the gallbladder.

Signs & Symptoms

These are signs of gallbladder cancer:

  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, also called jaundice
  • Pain above the stomach
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Bloating
  • Lumps in the abdomen

Many other health problems can also cause these signs. If you have any of these signs, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Learn more about gallbladder cancer from the National Cancer Institute.

Image of the Gallbladder

Anatomy of the gallbladder. The gallbladder is just below the liver. Bile is stored in the gallbladder and flows through the cystic duct and the common bile duct into the small intestine when food is being digested.
Anatomy of the gallbladder. The gallbladder is just below the liver. Bile is stored in the gallbladder and flows through the cystic duct and the common bile duct into the small intestine when food is being digested.

Specialties & Treatments

The treatment or combination of treatments each patient has depends on the stage of the cancer, recommendations of the care team, and the patient’s wishes. These are the most common types of treatment for gallbladder cancer:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy

Huntsman Cancer Institute’s Gastrointestinal (GI) Cancers Program provides comprehensive, compassionate, state-of-the-art care for cancers of the digestive system. Our experts treat and diagnose all types of GI cancers and conditions.

Learn more about types of cancer treatments and about cancer screenings.

Find a Gallbladder Cancer Doctor

Causes & Risk Factors

Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean you are sure to get cancer. It means your chances are higher than the average person’s. Talk with your doctor to learn more about your cancer risk. Risk factors include:

  • Being female
  • Being Native American

Learn more about ways to prevent cancer and about family history and genetic counseling.

Diagnosis & Stages

Diagnosis of Gallbladder Cancer

Doctors use these tests to diagnose gallbladder cancer:

  • Physical exam and history: A health care provider examines your body for signs of disease. Your personal health habits, past illnesses, and symptoms help guide the exam.
  • Laboratory tests: Through testing body tissues, blood, urine, or other substances in the body, your health care team can check to see how the liver and other organs are functioning. They can also look for substances that cells produce when cancer is present.
  • Ultrasound: This procedure uses high-energy sound waves to create a picture of the internal organs.
  • Imaging tests: Using dyes, x-rays, magnets, radio waves and/or computer technology, your health care provider can create detailed images of internal organs.
  • Other procedures: Some procedures use a combination of x-rays, scopes, needles and surgeries to check internal organs. These include percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography (PTC) and endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP).
  • Biopsy: The health care provider removes cell or tissue samples so they can be viewed under a microscope to check for signs of cancer.

Stages of Gallbladder Cancer

Stages of cancer show whether cancer has spread within the gallbladder or to other parts of the body. Cancer spreads in the body in three ways: through tissue, the lymph system, or the blood.

These are the stages used for gallbladder cancer:

  • Stage 0: Stage 0 cancers are often called carcinoma in situ. For stage 0 gallbladder cancer, tests have found abnormal cells on the inside of the gallbladder. These abnormal cells may become cancer and spread.
  • Stage 1: Cancer has formed and spread beyond the inner layer of the gallbladder.
  • Stage 2: Cancer has spread into the outer layers of the gallbladder.
  • Stage 3 (3A, 3B, 3C): Cancer has spread through the gallbladder into nearby lymph nodes or organs.
  • Stage 4 (4A, 4B): Cancer has spread into the main blood vessel of the liver or to distant organs such as the lungs.

For gallbladder cancer, your health care team might discuss the disease in terms of how they will recommend treating it. They may call it resectable cancer, which means that it can be removed with surgery. Unresectable cancer cannot be removed with surgery.

When cancer spreads from where it started to another part of the body, it is called metastasis. These metastatic cancer cells are the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if gallbladder cancer spreads to the bone, the cancer cells in the bone are actually gallbladder cancer cells. The disease is metastatic gallbladder cancer, not bone cancer.

Learn more about the stages of gallbladder cancer from the National Cancer Institute.

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