Gallbladder Cancer: The Basics

Author: Christina Bach, MBE, LCSW, OSW-C, FAOSW
Content Contributor: Allyson Distel, MPH
Last Reviewed: January 22, 2024

The gallbladder is an organ that stores bile. Bile is a green-colored liquid made by the liver that helps the body digest fats. Gallbladder cancer is caused by gallbladder cells growing out of control. As the number of cells grows, they form a tumor. 

Gallbladder cancer that has spread from the gallbladder to some other part of the body is called metastatic cancer.


Risks include:

  • Having had gallbladder issues in the past like inflammation and gallstones.
  • History of Typhoid.
  • Obesity.
  • Family history of gallbladder cancer.

Signs of Gallbladder Cancer

There are no specific signs of gallbladder cancer. The signs you have can be like the signs of having gallstones: 

  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes.
  • Not feeling hungry.
  • Lumps on the right side of the abdomen.
  • Nausea and upset stomach.
  • Losing weight.

Diagnosis of Gallbladder Cancer

When your healthcare providers think you may have gallbladder cancer, they will do a full exam of your body and ask you questions about your health. They also may order tests like:

  • CT.
  • Ultrasound and endoscopic ultrasound.
  • MRI.
  • Cholangiography which looks at the bile ducts in the gallbladder.
  • Blood tests.

Staging Gallbladder Cancer

To guide treatment, gallbladder cancer is "staged." This stage is based on:

  • Size and location of the tumor.
  • Whether cancer cells are in the lymph nodes.
  • Whether cancer cells are in other parts of the body.

Stages range from stage 0 (the cancer is only in the inner layer of the gallbladder) to stage IV (tumors that have spread to other parts of the body, also called metastatic cancer). The stage of gallbladder cancer will guide your treatment plan.


Often, these treatments are used:

  • Surgery to remove the whole tumor is the only way to cure gallbladder cancer. It can also be used to remove cancer cells that have spread or to lessen pain.
  • Radiation, the use of high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells, can be used after surgery. It can also be used to lessen symptoms caused by the cancer.
  • Chemotherapy, the use of medications to kill cancer cells that have gone to other places in the body, can be used with surgery.

This article is a basic guide to gallbladder cancer. You can learn more about your type of gallbladder cancer and treatment by using the links below.

Surgical Procedures: Surgery and Staging for Gallbladder Cancer


American Cancer Society. Gallbladder Cancer. 

American Cancer Society. (2018). Gallbladder Cancer Stages. 

American Cancer Society (2018). Signs and Symptoms of Gallbladder Cancer. 

American Cancer Society (2018). Tests for Gallbladder Cancer.

Azizi, A. A., Lamarca, A., McNamara, M. G., & Valle, J. W. (2021). Chemotherapy for advanced gallbladder cancer (GBC): A systematic review and meta-analysis. Critical reviews in oncology/hematology163, 103328.

Cai, J., Xu, L., Cai, Z., Wang, J., Zhou, B., & Hu, H. (2015). MicroRNA-146b-5p inhibits the growth of gallbladder carcinoma by targeting epidermal growth factor receptor. Molecular Medicine Reports, 12(1), 1549-1555. (2023). Gallbladder Cancer: Types and Treatment

Cariati, A., Piromalli, E., & Cetta, F. (2014). Gallbladder cancers: associated conditions, histological types, prognosis, and prevention. European Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology, 26(5), 562-569.

Cavallaro, A., Piccolo, G., Panebianco, V., Lo Menzo, E., Berretta, M., Zanghì, A., ... & Cappellani, A. (2012). Incidental gallbladder cancer during laparoscopic cholecystectomy: managing an unexpected finding. World J Gastroenterol, 18(30), 4019-4027.

De Lorenzo, S., Garajova, I., Stefanini, B., & Tovoli, F. (2021). Targeted therapies for gallbladder cancer: An overview of agents in preclinical and clinical development. Expert opinion on investigational drugs30(7), 759-772.

Hundal, R., & Shaffer, E. A. (2014). Gallbladder cancer: epidemiology and outcome. Clinical Epidemiology6, 99-109.

Liebe, R., Milkiewicz, P., Krawczyk, M., Bonfrate, L., Portincasa, P., & Krawczyk, M. (2015). Modifiable Factors and Genetic Predisposition Associated with Gallbladder Cancer. A Concise Review. J Gastrointestin Liver Dis, 24(3), 339-348.

Martel, G., & Auer, R. C. (2016). Resection of Gallbladder Cancer, Including Surgical Staging. In Atlas of Upper Gastrointestinal and Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary Surgery (pp. 599-609). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Matos, C., Santiago, I., Maciel, J., & Levy, A. D. (2015). Gallbladder Neoplasms. Gastrointestinal Imaging,474.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Guidelines Version 2.2023, Hepatocellular Carcinoma.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Guidelines Version 3.2023, Biliary Tract Cancers.

Qadan, M. & Kingham, T. P. (2016). Technical Aspects of Gallbladder Cancer Surgery. Surgical Clinics of North America, 96(2), 229-245.

Sasaki, T., Hiroki, K., & Yamashita, Y. (2013). The role of epidermal growth factor receptor in cancer metastasis and microenvironment. BioMed Research International, article ID 546318, 8 pages, 2013. doi:10.1155/2013/546318

Sicklick, J. K., Fanta, P. T., Shimabukuro, K., & Kurzrock, R. (2016). Genomics of gallbladder cancer: the case for biomarker-driven clinical trial design. Cancer and Metastasis Reviews, 1-13.

Stinton, L. M., & Shaffer, E. A. (2012). Epidemiology of gallbladder disease: cholelithiasis and cancer. Gut Liver6(2), 172-187.

Wernberg, J. A., & Lucarelli, D. D. (2014). Gallbladder cancer. Surgical Clinics of North America, 94(2), 343-360.


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