Gallbladder Cancer Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

Gallbladder cancer is an extremely uncommon disease. Only approximately 5000 persons in the USA are diagnosed with this kind of cancer each year. It is relatively infrequent below the age of 50 and is most typically encountered in adults between the ages of 70 and 75. It affects far more women than it does males.

Bile is stored and concentrated in the gall bladder, which is a tiny pouch. Bile is a fluid produced by the liver, and its primary role is to break down lipids in the small intestine during digestion (small intestine). The bile ducts connect the gall bladder to the small intestine and the liver.

The biliary system includes the gall bladder and bile ducts.


The specific aetiology of gall bladder cancer is unknown, however it is more prone to develop in persons who have had gallstones or who have benign (non-cancerous) gall bladder tumours or polyps. Gall bladder cancer is also somewhat more likely in those who are born with (congenital) bile duct anomalies or who have a disease known as porcelain gall bladder, in which calcium deposits in the gall bladder’s wall.


Symptoms of gall bladder cancer in its early phases are unavailable. When someone undergoes surgery to remove gallstones, early malignancies are sometimes identified unintentionally. This is how around 1 in 5 gall bladder malignancies are discovered.

According to one study, 43 percent of gallbladder tumours were discovered after they had progressed to neighbouring organs or lymph nodes, while 42 percent were recognised after they had spread to distant organs or lymph nodes.

The majority of gall bladder malignancies are detected when they have progressed to a late stage.

  • They can produce a range of symptoms, including illness, high fever, and acute discomfort in the upper right-hand side of the abdomen (which may come and go). The abdomen is the cavity that contains the stomach, gall bladder, and liver, among other organs.
  • The passage of bile from the gall bladder into the small intestine may be stopped if the malignancy plugs the bile duct. causes bile to flow back into the bloodstream and into bodily tissues, turning the skin and whites of the eyes yellow (known as jaundice). Urine turns a strong yellow colour, and stools (bowel movements) become pale.
  • Itchy skin is inevitable.
  • Mild abdominal pain,
  • lack of appetite, high fever,
  • and weight loss are all possible side effects.
  • Gallstones that are larger may pose a greater risk. Gallstones are still relatively common, although gallbladder cancer is extremely rare in persons who have them. Other diseases and disorders of the gallbladder.
  • Polyps, persistent inflammation, and infection are other gallbladder diseases that can raise the risk of gallbladder cancer. Bile duct inflammation is a condition in which the bile ducts become inflamed.

Although these symptoms might be caused by other issues such as gallstones or a gall bladder infection, it’s crucial to see your doctor about them.


Typically, you’ll start by seeing your primary care physician, who will do the primary tests on you as base of examination. They’ll recommend you to a hospital specialist for any required testing, as well as professional guidance and treatment. A doctor at the hospital will collect your complete medical history, do a physical examination, and draw blood to examine your overall health and liver function. There are a variety of tests that may be done to identify gall bladder cancer.

Ultrasound scan

Sound waves are utilised to create an image of the gall bladder and surrounding organs in this exam. The procedure is carried out in the hospital’s scanning department. You will be urged to fast for 4–6 hours before the scan and only consume clear drinks (nothing fizzy or creamy).

A gel is applied to your abdomen after you are laying comfortably on your back. The region is then massaged using a tiny instrument. A computer converts sound waves into a visual image. The exam is painless and only takes 15–20 minutes.

CT scan (computerized tomography)

A CT scan uses a succession of x-rays to create a comprehensive image of your gall bladder and surrounding organs, which is then sent into a computer. You will be advised not to eat or drink anything for at least four hours before your appointment on the day of the scan. A special beverage will be provided to you to consume an hour before the test and again right before the scan. To guarantee that a clean picture is acquired, the liquid appears on x-ray.

The scan can begin once you are comfortably positioned on your back on the sofa. A special dye will be put into a vein around halfway during the scan to highlight the blood arteries. For the next half hour, you may feel heated or flushed. The test is painless, although it will need you to lie motionless for 10–30 minutes. You will be recommended to drink lots after the scan because you will have had little to drink before the scan.

Spiral CT scan

A spiral (or helical) CT scan is a relatively recent type of CT scan. The x-ray equipment revolves constantly around the body, following a spiral route to create cross-sectional images of the body during a spiral CT.

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan

This test is similar to a CT scan, not like the x-rays, it employs magnetism to create cross-sectional images of your body. You will be required to lie quite motionless on a couch inside a huge metal cylinder that is open on both ends during the test. The entire exam might take up to an hour. It can be a little unsettling, and some individuals become claustrophobic during the scan. Because the scan is somewhat noisy, you will be provided earplugs or headphones to use. You can generally have allowed to bring a companion into the room with you. A two-way intercom allows you to talk with the scanner’s operators. You will not be able to take this test if you have any metal implants.

ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangial-pancreatography)

This is a process that involves taking an x-ray image of the pancreatic and bile ducts. It can also be utilised to unclog the bile duct and place a stent if necessary.

You will be instructed to fast for about six hours before the test to ensure that your stomach and the first portion of your small intestine (the duodenum) are both empty. A sedative tablet or injection will be administered to you, and a local anaesthetic spray will be used to numb your throat. A small flexible tube called as an endoscope will then be sent into your mouth, into your stomach, and into the duodenum right beyond it by the doctor.

The doctor can see the aperture where the bile duct and pancreatic duct leak into the duodenum by looking down the endoscope. A dye that can be detected on x-ray can be injected into these ducts, allowing the doctor to check whether there are any blockages or abnormalities.


Because the bile duct is so close to the liver’s major blood arteries, it may be necessary to do an angiogram. 

The angiography can determine whether the tumour has impacted the blood vessels. A dye is injected through a tiny tube that is placed into an artery in your groyne. The dye flows in the arteries, causing them to appear on x-ray. An angiography is performed in the x-ray department in a special room. 

An MRI scan can sometimes reveal the blood veins of the liver, eliminating the need for an angiography.


Because the bile duct is so close to the liver’s major blood arteries, it may be necessary to do an angiogram. The angiography can determine whether the tumour has impacted the blood vessels.

A dye is injected through a tiny tube that is placed into an artery in your groyne. The dye flows in the arteries, causing them to appear on x-ray. An angiography is performed in the x-ray department in a special room. An MRI scan can sometimes reveal the blood veins of the liver, eliminating the need for an angiography.


This is a minor procedure that lets doctors to examine the gall bladder, liver, and other internal organs in the gall bladder’s vicinity. It is performed under general anaesthesia and will result in a brief hospital stay.

The doctor will create a small cut (incision) in the front of your abdomen and insert a thin little flexible tube housing a light and camera while you are sedated (laparoscope). The doctor can examine the gall bladder and extract a tiny sample of tissue (biopsy) for microscopic inspection.

Carbon dioxide gas is injected into the abdominal cavity during the procedure, which might induce wind and/or shoulder discomfort for many days. Walking around or sipping peppermint water can help relieve discomfort. You will have one or two sutures in your abdomen after the laparoscopy.

As a therapy for gallstones or persistent gall bladder irritation, the gall bladder can sometimes be removed during a laparoscopy. A laparoscopic cholecystectomy is the name for this procedure. If gallbladder cancer is discovered or suspected during the procedure, the surgeon switches to an open cholecystectomy (removal of the gall bladder through a larger cut in the abdomen). This makes removing all of the cancer easy.


If the doctor is unable to make the diagnosis with the preceding tests, a laparotomy under general anaesthesia may be performed. This procedure entails cutting a hole in your belly (incision) so that the surgeon may inspect your gall bladder and surrounding tissue for malignancy. If a cancer is discovered but does not appear to have spread to other tissues, the surgeon may be able to remove it or relieve any obstructions it may be creating.


The extent of a malignancy and whether it has progressed beyond its original site are described by its stage. Knowing the specific kind and stage of cancer aids doctors in determining the best course of therapy.

Cancer can spread throughout the body via the circulation or the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is an important aspect of the body’s defence mechanism against infection and illness. The lymphatic system is made up of a network of lymph glands or nodes connected by lymph fluid-filled tiny channels. Doctors will frequently examine adjacent lymph nodes to determine the cancer’s stage

Four stages to cancer of the gall bladder are enumerated below:

  • Stage 1: The malignancy exclusively affects the gall bladder’s wall. When a cancer is diagnosed, around one out of every four cancers is at this stage.
  • Stage 2: The cancer has progressed along the whole thickness of the gall bladder wall, but not to neighbouring lymph nodes or organs.
  • Stage 3: The cancer has progressed to lymph nodes near the gall bladder, as well as the liver, stomach, colon, and small intestine.
  • Stage 4: The cancer has progressed deeply into two or more organs around the gall bladder, or to distant lymph nodes or organs like the liver or lungs. Metastatic cancer, also known as secondary cancer, is a type of cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.

Sometimes, an alternative technique called the TNM staging system is employed, in which:

  • T denotes the tumour’s size.
  • The letter N denotes whether or not the malignancy has progressed to the lymph nodes.
  • M indicates if the malignancy has progressed to another organ, such as the liver (secondary or metastatic cancer).


Despite its complexity, this approach can provide more exact information on the tumour stage. Recurrent cancer occurs when the cancer returns after initial therapy.



Grading describes how cancer cells appear under a microscope and provides an estimate of how rapidly the disease will progress. Low-grade cancer cells have a similar appearance to normal cells, are sluggish to develop, and are less likely to spread. The cells in high-grade tumours have an aberrant appearance, are more likely to develop fast, and are more likely to spread.


The sort of therapy you receive will be determined by a variety of criteria, including your overall health, the location and size of the gall bladder cancer, and if the cancer has spread to other parts of your body.


Surgery is the most common therapy for gall bladder cancer, and it can be used to completely remove the cancer if it hasn’t progressed beyond the gall bladder’s region.

Even if the disease has gone beyond the gall bladder, surgery may still be utilised to alleviate symptoms by removing as much malignancy as feasible. The findings of the studies outlined above will determine whether surgery is possible or not. It’s possible that you’ll be sent to a surgeon who specialises in this type of cancer.


Radiotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells while causing minimal damage to healthy cells. It’s occasionally used to treat gallbladder cancer. It can be delivered externally via a radiation equipment or internally with the placement of radioactive material near the tumour.


Chemotherapy is the treatment of cancer cells with anti-cancer (cytotoxic) medicines to kill cancel cell. They operate by stopping cancer cells from growing. Chemotherapy for gall bladder cancer has not been found to be very effective. However, it is anticipated that it might help contain gall bladder cancer that has spread to other parts of the body for a while.

Stent insertion

If a blockage in the bile duct is caused by gall bladder cancer, the doctor may be able to place a tiny tube (stent) during the ERCP. This can assist to alleviate any jaundice without requiring a surgical procedure.

The stent is around 5–10cm long and roughly the thickness of a ball-point pen refill. The bile duct is cleared via a stent, which allows the bile to flow out.

The preparation and method are identical to those described above for ERCP. The doctor can observe the narrowing in the bile duct by glancing at the x-ray image. Inflatable balloons (dilators) can be used to expand the bottleneck, and a stent can be put through the endoscope to allow the bile to drain.

To keep the tube from becoming obstructed, it should be renewed every 3–4 months. If the tube becomes clogged, it might cause jaundice and/or high temperatures. It’s critical to notify your doctor as soon as possible if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms. Antibiotic therapy may be required, and your expert may recommend that the stent be replaced. This technique is quite simple for the majority of people.