Gallbladder cancer

The gallbladder is a small, pouch-like organ found underneath the liver. Gallbladder cancer is a rare cancer. See your GP if you have symptoms of gallbladder cancer (see below), so you can get them investigated.

About the gallbladder

The gallbladder is a small, pouch-like organ found underneath the liver. It stores bile, a liquid produced by the liver that helps break down fatty foods.

There are different types of gallbladder cancer, depending on which cells are affected.

Symptoms of gallbladder cancer

In the early stages, gallbladder cancer doesn't usually cause any symptoms. This means it's often diagnosed at a more advanced stage.

Symptoms that occur at a later stage can include:

Other symptoms can include:

  • not feeling hungry
  • unexplained weight loss
  • a swollen tummy
  • dark yellow urine or pale-coloured poo (usually with jaundice)
  • itchy skin

When to see your GP

If you have any of the symptoms above, it's important you tell your GP about them so they can find the cause.

These symptoms can be caused by a number of conditions and may not be related to gallbladder cancer.

Your GP will examine you and ask about your symptoms. If they suspect gallbladder cancer, they may refer you to a specialist at a hospital.

This will usually be a doctor who specialises in conditions of the digestive system (a gastroenterologist or gastrointestinal surgeon).

Your GP may also order some tests, including:

If these tests show anything abnormal in or around your gallbladder, further tests may be arranged to help confirm whether you have gallbladder cancer.

Causes of gallbladder cancer

The exact cause of gallbladder cancer isn't known, but certain things are thought to increase your chances of developing it.

These include:

  • older age – it's more common in people over the age of 70
  • family history – you have a higher risk of developing gallbladder cancer if a parent, sibling or child has had the condition
  • having another gallbladder condition – you have a higher risk if you have already had gallstones, inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis), polyps in your gallbladder or a condition called porcelain gallbladder
  • being obese
  • smoking

Treatment for gallbladder cancer

If you are diagnosed with gallbladder cancer, the health professional looking after your care will discuss treatment options with you.

The main treatment for gallbladder cancer is surgery to remove the gallbladder (cholecystectomy) and possibly some of the surrounding tissue.

It's safe to remove the gallbladder and it shouldn't affect your ability to digest food.

If the gallbladder cancer is too advanced to remove or it's spread to other organs (metastases), you won't have surgery.

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are also sometimes used, either on their own or in combination with surgery.

The treatment or combination of treatments most suitable for you will depend on:

  • the type of gallbladder cancer you have
  • the stage of your cancer
  • your overall level of health

The Cancer Research UK website has more information about staging gallbladder cancer, treating gallbladder cancer and the outlook for gallbladder cancer.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

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