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Gallbladder Cancer

Gallbladder cancer may not cause any symptoms until cancer advances. Receiving care from an experienced specialist is critical to getting the best health outcomes. The experts at Rogel Cancer Center diagnose and treat gallbladder cancer with options that offer hope.

Gallbladder Cancer Care: Why Choose Rogel Cancer Center?

Our GI cancer specialists diagnose and treat gallbladder cancer as part of our multidisciplinary liver tumor clinic. We bring our experienced specialists together to focus solely on your care. Program highlights include:

  • Skilled providers: Specialists in medical oncology, radiation oncology and surgery work together with pathologists and advanced practice providers to offer personalized care. Meet our team.
  • Accurate diagnosis: Our radiology specialists are experts in interpreting abdominal imaging for fast and accurate diagnosis. We interpret hundreds of abdominal images each year, so you can be confident in our skills.
  • Advanced treatments: We use radiation therapy and chemotherapy to reduce tumor size (downstage) in advanced cancers. These local therapies can help make surgery possible for gallbladder cancer.
  • Leading-edge research: We lead and participate in clinical trials, giving you access to the newest therapies for gallbladder cancer. Talk to your care team to see if you’re eligible to participate.

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About Gallbladder Cancer

Your gallbladder plays an important role in digesting food. This organ stores digestive fluids made in the liver (bile). During digestion, your gallbladder releases bile to help your small intestine break down foods.

Tumors can form when cells that line the gallbladder grow in ways that aren’t normal. Most gallbladder cancers are tumors in gland-like cells (adenocarcinomas). Rarely, tumors may form in skin-like cells that line the gallbladder (squamous cell carcinomas)

You might not have any symptoms of gallbladder cancer until large tumors develop or cancer spreads (metastasizes). Our experts begin by asking you about your medical history and any symptoms you have. Gallbladder cancer symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Pain, lumps or swelling in your abdomen
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Yellow skin or eyes (jaundice)

Our experts may recommend a blood test (liver function test) to measure the amount of certain chemicals produced by your liver. High levels may mean cancer is present.

Specialists also use imaging tests to see detailed images of your bile ducts, liver and gallbladder. We use:

  • Angiography: Specialists inject dye that makes your blood vessels visible. Then, we take X-rays to see how blood flows through your gallbladder and liver. We also look at blood vessels that don’t seem typical.
  • Cholangiography: We use this test to check for blockages or changes to blood vessels in the bile ducts, gallbladder and liver. Specialists use these images to see if tumors are blocking bile ducts.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: We use this special X-ray test to create detailed images of your bile ducts, gallbladder and liver. We can see whether tumors are growing in certain areas of your abdomen.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Experts perform this test, which uses a computer, radio waves and magnets, to see images of your gallbladder. Our radiology experts interpret these images to determine if tumors are present. We also look for blocked blood vessels around your liver.
  • Ultrasound: We use a probe (transducer) to create pictures using sound waves. These images show experts the detail of your bile ducts, gallbladder and liver. You may have:
    • Abdominal ultrasound: We move the probe over the skin of your abdomen.
    • Endoscopic ultrasound: Doctors use a thin lighted instrument with a camera (endoscope) to see inside your body. We insert the endoscope through your mouth into your stomach or through a small incision in your abdomen (laparoscopic ultrasound).

Doctors may take a small sample of tissue (biopsy) from the tumor. Our pathology specialists examine the tissue under a microscope to confirm if cancer cells are present.

Gallbladder Cancer Treatment at Rogel Cancer Center

Our liver cancer experts treat gallbladder cancer with surgery, radiation and systemic therapy. We work together – and with you – to create a tailored treatment plan that meets your treatment goals. We offer:

Surgery for gallbladder cancer

Not all gallbladder tumors are removable. Our surgeons evaluate tumor images to develop individualized surgery plans. We may perform:

  • Simple cholecystectomy: Experts remove the gallbladder completely. We may do this with:
    • Laparoscopic cholecystectomy: We make tiny incisions in the abdomen to insert a thin tube with a light and camera (laparoscope). We use surgical tools to remove the gallbladder through these tiny incisions.
    • Open cholecystectomy: We make a large incision in the abdomen to remove the gallbladder.
  • Radical cholecystectomy: Surgeons remove the gallbladder, part of the liver next to the gallbladder and nearby lymph nodes. They may also decide to remove additional tissue if there’s a risk of cancer spreading.

Palliative surgery for gallbladder cancer

When surgeons can’t remove gallbladder tumors, they may perform palliative surgery. These surgeries help manage some of the symptoms that tumors cause. Experts may perform:

  • Biliary bypass: Surgeons create a new path around a bile duct blocked by a tumor.
  • Percutaneous transhepatic biliary drainage: Surgeons place a metal or plastic tube (stent) into the liver when bile ducts are blocked. The stent may drain bile into the small intestine or to a bag outside the body.
  • Stent placement: We insert a stent to help keep a blocked bile duct open.

Radiation therapy for gallbladder cancer

Radiation oncologists at Rogel Cancer Center treat gallbladder cancer with radiation therapies. We offer:

  • External beam radiation therapy: We take precise measurements to map the gallbladder tumor location. We then use a machine to aim energy beams at these locations to destroy cancer cells.
  • Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT): Experts use a computerized system to deliver a precise dose of radiation to gallbladder tumors. Our specialists adjust the angles and dosing of the radiation beams to spare healthy tissue while targeting cancer.

Systemic therapy for gallbladder cancer

Our experts may recommend treatment with medications, known as systemic therapy, as part of gallbladder cancer treatment. We may use:

  • Chemotherapy: Drugs that travel through your bloodstream to kill cancer cells throughout the body. Experts may recommend chemotherapy:
    • When gallbladder cancer can’t be removed with surgery
    • After gallbladder cancer surgery to help destroy any remaining cancer
    • To reduce tumor size and help manage symptoms (known as palliative care)
  • Immunotherapy: Drugs that help your immune system recognize and fight cancer. Your doctor may recommend that you join an immunotherapy clinical trial if you are eligible.
  • Targeted therapy: Drugs that destroy cancer cells while leaving healthy cells intact. You may be eligible to access these drugs through a clinical trial.

GI Cancer Clinical Trials

Rogel Cancer Center experts lead and participate in clinical trials of the newest treatments for gallbladder cancer and other GI cancer types. Learn more about our GI cancer clinical trials and whether you might be eligible to participate.

Multidisciplinary Liver Cancer Care

The specialists at Rogel Cancer Center work together to treat all types of liver cancer in our multidisciplinary clinics. Our specialist team offers access to expert diagnoses and the most advanced treatments for liver cancers. The multidisciplinary approach at Rogel Cancer Center ensures you benefit from our team’s years of training, skill and experience.

Find GI Cancer Support Services

When you or a loved one is treated for gallbladder cancer, our patient navigators make sure you have resources and information. Learn how GI cancer support services at Rogel Cancer Center are there for you when you need support.

Request an Appointment

Learn more about how we diagnose and treat gallbladder cancer at Rogel Cancer Center. Call 734-647-8902 to make an appointment.