Gallbladder Cancer

Gallbladder Cancer

The gallbladder is a small pear-shaped organ situated below the liver on the right side of the abdomen. It stores bile, a dark green to yellowish-brown fluid, secreted by the liver. The bile duct carries bile from the gallbladder to the small intestine where it helps in the digestion of fat.

Gallbladder cancer is a rare disease that occurs when healthy cells acquire changes (mutations in their DNA) that make them divide uncontrollably and form a tumor. Cancer usually arises in the inner layers of the gallbladder and migrates to the nearby healthy tissues.

Stages of Gallbladder Cancer

  • Stage I: Cancerous cells are confined to inner layers
  • Stage II: Tumour has invaded to the outer layers
  • Stage III: Cancer has spread to nearby organs and lymph nodes
  • Stage IV: Cancer has begun to spread to the distant organs of the body


Early stages of gallbladder cancer are often asymptomatic. Signs and symptoms at advanced stages include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Nausea
  • Jaundice
  • Weight loss
  • Dark urine
  • Itchy skin

Risk Factors

The various risk factors include:

  • Advanced age
  • Female gender
  • History of gallstones
  • Bile duct problems
  • Gallbladder polyps
  • Certain infections
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Being of Native American or Mexican heritage


Your doctor will assess your symptoms and perform a physical exam. The following diagnostic tests or procedures may be ordered:

  • Liver Function Test: Determines the health of your liver, gallbladder and bile ducts.
  • Imaging Tests: Images of your gallbladder are obtained by performing CT scan, MRI, Ultrasound, etc.
  • Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiography (ERCP): An endoscope is inserted into your mouth and advanced towards the stomach and duodenum (first part of your small intestine). A dye is injected and X-ray images are taken to study the stage of gallbladder cancer.
  • Biopsy: A small piece of suspected tissue is obtained and observed under the microscope for the presence of cancerous cells.


Treatment depends on the stage of your cancer. Early-stage cancer can be cured by removal of the gallbladder (Cholecystectomy) and nearby tissue. Advanced stages may involve treatment options including:

  • Chemotherapy: The use of drugs to treat cancer in the form of pills or intravenous injections.
  • Radiation therapy: High energy particles or waves such as X-rays and gamma rays are used to kill or damage the cancerous cells.

Treatment may also include:

  • Relieving Blocked Bile Duct: Your doctor places a hollow metal tube (stent) to hold it open.
  • Clinical trials: You may participate in studies that experiment on new procedures or medicines to treat gallbladder cancer.


You may not be able to prevent gallbladder cancer but staying active and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce your risk of developing it.

  • Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh
  • International Liver Transplantation Society
  • International Hepato-Pancreato Biliary Association
  • Mediclinic City Hospital
  • American College of Surgeons