Gallbladder Cancer

What is Gallbladder Cancer?

Gallbladder cancer is a rare cancer that begins in the pear-shaped organ on the right side of the abdomen, beneath the liver, which stores bile that is produced by the liver. Most gallbladder cancers start in cells that line the inside of the gall bladder.

Baptist Health is known for advanced, superior care for patients with cancer and the diagnosis, treatment and management of gallbladder cancer. You will appreciate timely appointments and a professional, friendly atmosphere where we take time to listen to your concerns. At Baptist Health, you have access to the region’s most comprehensive, multidisciplinary team of specialists and innovative therapies, including many available only through specialized clinical trials. In every way, we work to demonstrate the utmost in excellent care to those who trust us with their health. 

Signs and Symptoms

Gallbladder cancer is difficult to diagnose in the early stages due to symptoms that are vague and associated with benign gallbladder disease. When symptoms do occur, they may include:

  • Abdominal bloating
  • Abdominal pain, especially on the upper right side
  • Dark urine
  • Fever
  • Itchiness
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Light-colored or greasy stools
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lumps on the right side of the abdomen
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Unintentional weight loss 


To determine if someone has gallbladder cancer, we ask about medical history and do a physical exam. We also use advanced diagnostic procedures and technology to effectively diagnose, inform treatment and carefully monitor the condition. Diagnostic procedures can include:

Blood test: Blood tests check liver function and tumor-related proteins and may help the physician determine what’s causing signs and symptoms.

Computed tomography (CT) scan: A series of detailed pictures, taken from different angles, are created by a computer linked to an X-ray machine.

Exploratory surgery: In a procedure called laparoscopy, the surgeon makes a small incision in the abdomen and inserts a tiny camera. The camera allows the surgeon to examine organs surrounding the gallbladder for signs that cancer has spread.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This test uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to create pictures of organs and structures inside the body.

Tests to examine the bile ducts: The physician may recommend procedures to inject dye into the bile ducts followed by an imaging test that records where the dye goes. These tests can show blockages in the bile ducts. These tests may include endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography, magnetic resonance cholangiography and percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography.

Ultrasound: An ultrasound uses sound waves to evaluate the right upper quadrant for the cause of abdominal pain.


Physicians don’t know what causes gallbladder cancer – only that it’s due to changes (mutations) in gallbladder cell DNA. There is some indication that the following may cause gallbladder cancer.

  • Occupational exposure to chemicals
  • Smoking
  • Obesity 

Risk Factors

Risk factors that can contribute to gallbladder cancer include:

Age: A person’s risk for gallbladder cancer increases with age. 

Family history: Rarely, gallbladder cancer seems to run in families. 

Gender: Gallbladder cancer is more common in women. 

History of gallstones: Gallbladder cancer is most common in people who have had gallstones, with incidence increasing with gallstones greater than 3 cm. Most people with gallstones don’t develop gallbladder cancer.

Other gallbladder diseases and conditions: Other gallbladder conditions that can increase the risk of gallbladder cancer include porcelain gallbladder, choledochal cyst, chronic gallbladder infection, primary sclerosing cholangitis, abnormal pancreaticobiliary junction, salmonella and helicobacter pylori.


While most risk factors for gallbladder cancer cannot be controlled, there are ways you can help prevent it:

Control weight: Watch what you eat and get regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight.

Don’t smoke: If you do smoke, quit. 


The earlier that gallbladder cancer is diagnosed, the better the outcome. When gallbladder cancer is discovered at an early stage, there is a good chance for a cure. However, most gallbladder cancers are discovered at a late stage, when the prognosis is poor. 

Treatment and Recovery

Gallbladder cancer treatment depends upon on its stage and the patient’s overall health. Treatment may include:


This intravenous or oral drug treatment uses chemicals to kill cancer cells.

Clinical Trials

These use experimental or new medications to treat gallbladder cancer. Talk to your physician to see whether you’re eligible to participate in a clinical trial.

Radiation Therapy

This treatment uses high-powered beams of radiation to kill cancer cells. 


Early gallbladder cancer confined to the gallbladder is treated with an operation to remove it (cholecystectomy).

Gallbladder cancer that extends beyond the gallbladder and into the liver is sometimes treated with surgery to remove the gallbladder, as well as portions of the liver and bile ducts that surround the gallbladder. 


Gallbladder cancer can recur, so follow-up care after successful treatment is important. Gallbladder cancer can also spread to the liver and other parts of the body.

Next Steps with MyChart

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