Gallbladder Cancer



Cancer happens when cells divide without control or order. These cells grow together to form a tumor. They can invade and damage nearby tissues. They can also spread to other parts of the body. It is not clear what causes changes in the cells. It is likely a combination of genes and environment.

Risk Factors

Gallbladder cancer is more common in older adults and women. It is also more common in people from South America, parts of Asia, and Eastern Europe. Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • A personal or family history of gallstones
  • Defects of the gallbladder and ducts
  • Gallbladder polyps and choledochal cysts
  • Infections, such as typhoid fever, and salmonella
  • Having many pregnancies and births
  • Obesity
  • Smoking



Gallbladder cancer often has no symptoms in the early stages. When symptoms appear, they may be:

  • Pain in the belly
  • Pain in the upper back
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Lack of hunger
  • Weight loss
  • Feeling weak and tired
  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes— jaundice
  • Swelling or lumps in the belly


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. Gallbladder cancer is often hard to diagnose because there are no early symptoms. It is often found during abdominal surgery for other reasons.

The doctor may order blood tests to look for problems.

Imaging tests will check the gallbladder and other structures. They may include:

A biopsy may be done. This involves taking and testing a sample of tissue for cancer cells.

The exam and test results are used to diagnose the cancer. They are also used for staging. Gallbladder cancer is staged 0 to 4. The lower the stage, the less the cancer has spread.



Treatment depends on the stage of the cancer. The goal is to remove all the cancer, if possible. For advanced cancers, treatment is done only to help ease symptoms.

Treatment may include surgeries such as:

  • Cholecystectomy—removal of the gallbladder and possibly part of the liver and nearby lymph nodes
  • ECRP— surgery to open blocked bile ducts and ease symptoms

Other treatments may include:

  • Radiation therapy—x-rays or particles that kill cancer cells and shrink tumors
  • Chemotherapy (chemo) drugs taken by mouth, injection, or IV—to kill cancer cells

Radiation and chemotherapy may be used alone or together. They may be used:

  • After surgery—to kill any cancer that might be left
  • If cancer cannot be removed with surgery—and has not spread widely through the body
  • To ease symptoms—when cancer advanced and not curable

New treatments for gallbladder cancer are currently being tested.


There are no current guidelines to prevent gallbladder cancer.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.