• Gallbladder Cancer


    Gallbladder cancer is a disease in which cancer cells grow in the gallbladder. This is a relatively rare form of cancer. The gallbladder is a small pear-shaped organ that sits beneath the liver. It stores bile until it is needed by the digestive system. Bile is a greenish-yellow digestive fluid produced by the liver that helps in digesting fat.
    The Gallbladder
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


    Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Normally, cells divide in a regulated manner. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms, called a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant growths. These growths can invade nearby tissues. Cancer that has invaded nearby tissues can then spread to other parts of the body.
    It is not clear exactly what causes these problems in the cells, but is probably a combination of genetics and environment.

    Risk Factors

    Gallbladder cancer is more common in women and those of Native American or Hispanic descent. Other factors that may increase your chance of gallbladder cancer include:
    • Gallstones or chronic inflammation of the gallbladder, including calcification of the gallbladder (porcelain gallbladder)
    • Obesity
    • Increasing age—especially 65 years and older
    • Physical abnormalities of the gallbladder and ducts, such as choledochal cysts or polyps of the gallbladder
    • Exposure to some chemicals, such as azotoluene and nitrosamines, found in metal processing and rubber production
    • Typhoid fever or chronic salmonella infection


    Gallbladder cancer often shows no symptoms in its early stages. As the disease progresses, symptoms associated with bile obstruction often develop. These include:
    • Abdominal pain
    • Pain in the upper back (called referred pain)
    • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes— jaundice
    Other symptoms may include:
    • Nausea and/or vomiting
    • Loss of appetite
    • Weight loss
    • Liver and spleen enlargement
    • Increased abdominal girth


    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Gallbladder cancer is often hard to diagnose because there are no early symptoms. Gallbladder cancer is usually discovered incidentally during abdominal surgery for other reasons.
    Tests may include:
    • Blood tests
    • Biopsy —The removal of a sample of tissue for testing. This is usually an open surgery.
    Imaging tests evaluate the gallbladder and surrounding structures. These may include:
    The physical exam combined with all of your test results, will help to determine the stage of cancer you have. Staging is used to guide your treatment plan. Like other cancers, gallbladder cancer is staged from I-IV. Stage I is a very localized cancer, while stage IV indicates a spread to other parts of the body.


    Treatment depends on the stage of the cancer. For advanced cancers, treatment is done only to help relieve symptoms. Treatments include:


    Surgical removal of the gallbladder is called cholecystectomy. Part of the liver and lymph nodes near the gallbladder may also be removed. In some cases, surgery is done to relieve symptoms by opening obstructed bile ducts. ERCP may also be used for this purpose.

    Radiation Therapy

    Radiation therapy uses radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation is most often administered from a source outside the body.


    Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body killing mostly cancer cells, but also some healthy cells. Chemotherapy is not considered curative for gallbladder cancer, but may relieve symptoms in some.

    Combined Modality Therapy (CMT)

    CMT is a term gaining popularity and meaning several treatments at once or in succession. Although it has not been shown that chemo- and radiation therapy at the same time are better than radiation therapy alone in the treatment of gallbladder cancer, CMT is better with many other kinds of cancers.


    There are no curent guidelines to prevent gallbladder cancer because the cause is unknown. If you have problems with gallstones, talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of removing the gallbladder.


    American Cancer Society http://www.cancer.org

    National Cancer Institute http://www.cancer.gov


    Canadian Cancer Society http://www.cancer.ca

    Women's Health Matters http://www.womenshealthmatters.ca


    Gallbladder adenocarcinoma. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116527/Gallbladder-adenocarcinoma. Updated June 20, 2016. Accessed September 28, 2016.

    Gallbladder cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003101-pdf.pdf. Accessed November 26, 2014.

    Gallbladder cancer. Johns Hopkins Medicine website. Available at: http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/liver%5Ftumor%5Fcenter/conditions/gallbladder%5Fcancer.html. Accessed November 26, 2014.

    Tumors of the gallbladder and bile ducts. The Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/hepatic-and-biliary-disorders/gallbladder-and-bile-duct-disorders/tumors-of-the-gallbladder-and-bile-ducts. Updated November 2013. Accessed November 26, 2014.

    10/1/2014 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance. http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116527/Gallbladder-adenocarcinoma: Bhaskaran K, Douglas I, Forbes H, et al. Body-mass index and risk of 22 specific cancers: a population-based cohort study of 5.24 million UK adults. Lancet. 2014;384(9945):755-765.

    Revision Information

  • LiveWell personal health survey

    How healthy are you really? Find out – free.Learn more

    It's time to stop guessing. If you want to make some changes but just aren't sure how, the free personal health survey from LiveWell is a great place to start.

  • HeartSHAPE Spotlight

    At risk for a heart attack? Learn more

    Fight heart disease and prevent heart attacks. HeartSHAPE® is a painless, non-invasive test that checks pictures of your heart for early-stage coronary disease.

  • Calories and Energy Needs

    Calorie NeedsLearn more

    How many calories do you need to eat each day to maintain your weight and fuel your physical activity? Enter a few of your stats into this calculator to find out.

  • Ideal Body Weight

    Ideal Body WeightLearn more

    Using body mass index as a reference, this calculator determines your ideal body weight range. All you need to do is enter your height.

  • Body Mass Index

    Body Mass IndexLearn more

    This tool considers your height and weight to assess your weight status.

  • Can we help answer your questions?

    Wellmont Nurse Connection is your resource for valuable health information any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Speak to a Nurse any time, day or night, at (423) 723-6877 or toll-free at 1-877-230-NURSE.