Gallbladder Cancer Treatment Options

John Han-Chih Chang, MD and Kenneth Blank, MD
Last Modified: November 1, 2001

Dear OncoLink "Ask the Experts,"
My mother has just been told that she has gallbladder cancer and that the cancer also has spread to the liver. Her doctor tells her that she is incurable and he recommends no treatment other than pain treatment. She also has a gallstone and takes some type of analgesic to reduce her pain. She has no other symptoms yet. The doctor isn't going to treat the gallstone.

  1. Could this be right? Isn't there any treatment possible in this situation?

  2. Even if there is no treatment available, could not the gallstone be removed to relieve her pain?
Yours Sincerely,

John Han-Chih Chang, MD and Ken Blank, MD, Editorial Assistants for OncoLink, respond:

Dear AJ,  
Thank you for your question.

Based on the limited information you have given us, it appears that you mother has an advanced stage carcinoma of the gallbladder. Studies have shown that gallstones do have an associative relationship with gallbladder cancer. Her abdominal pain maybe related to her gallstones, but also could be related to cancer itself.

Standard treatment options for gallbladder cancer are surgery and radiation therapy. Chemotherapy has not shown to be of significant benefit alone. Although some chemotherapy agents may be used in conjunction with radiation to treat this type of cancer. The surgical option has been deferred by your mother's doctor. This may be for a variety of reasons, such as 1) the tumor has spread too far for surgery to be curative 2) the patient's medical condition is such that risks of surgery outweigh the possible benefits.

As an alternative, radiation therapy may be given with external beam radiation or radiation seeds concurrently with chemotherapy if your mother can tolerate it. This may be used in a palliative attempt to treat the disease. An alternative way to treat the pain from gallbladder cancer is called a percutaneous celiac ganglion nerve block—an analgesic injection is given to the nerve that receives the pain message from the area of the gallbladder.

Please consult you own physician on these and further possibilities for your mother's treatment. Always get more than one doctor's opinion on the matter.

Please check the following OncoLink pages for further information on gallbladder cancer:

NCI/PDQ® Patient Statement: Gallbladder cancer

OncoLink's Gallbladder Cancer section.