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Gallbladder cancer

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Treatment of gallbladder cancer

Treatment for gallbladder cancer is given by cancer specialists (oncologists). Some specialize in surgery, some in radiation therapy and others in chemotherapy (drugs). These doctors work with the person with cancer to decide on a treatment plan.

Treatment plans are designed to meet the unique needs of each person with cancer. Treatment decisions for gallbladder cancer are based on:

  • the stage
    • Often gallbladder cancer is not found until it is at an advanced stage and cannot be completely removed by surgery. In general, if gallbladder cancer has spread too far or into major blood vessels, then it is unlikely that surgery will remove it all.
    • The goal of treatment for advanced gallbladder cancers is to relieve pain and symptoms caused by the cancer.
  • whether the tumour can be removed by surgery (is resectable)
  • the person's overall health
  • the person's age

Treatment options for gallbladder cancer

  • surgery
    • The type of surgery depends on the extent of gallbladder cancer. The gallbladder may be removed with surgery (simple cholecystectomy), or more extensive surgery may be done.
    • Palliative surgery or procedures may be done to relieve symptoms of advanced gallbladder cancer. This may include inserting a stent or doing a biliary bypass to help drain bile blocked by a tumour.
  • radiation therapy
    • Radiation therapy may be used to relieve symptoms of advanced gallbladder cancer.
    • Radiation therapy may be given after gallbladder cancer surgery in some cases.
  • chemotherapy
    • Chemotherapy may be used with radiation therapy for unresectable gallbladder cancer.
    • Chemotherapy is sometimes given after gallbladder surgery.
    • Chemotherapy is used for advanced gallbladder cancer.
  • follow-up after treatment is finished
    • It is important to have regular follow-up visits, especially after treatment for gallbladder cancer.
    • Follow-up for gallbladder cancer varies depending on the treatments used and the person's prognosis.

Clinical trials

Clinical trials investigate better ways to prevent, detect and treat cancer. There are some clinical trials in Canada that are open to people with gallbladder cancer. Gallbladder cancer trials may be included with other biliary tract cancers, such as bile duct cancer, or trials for advanced or metastatic cancer. For more information, go to clinical trials.

See a list of questions to ask your doctor about treatment.


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