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Gallbladder cancer

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Treatments for gallbladder cancer

If you have gallbladder cancer, your healthcare team will create a treatment plan just for you. It will be based on your health and specific information about the cancer. When deciding which treatments to offer for gallbladder cancer, your healthcare team will consider if the cancer:

  • can be completely removed with surgery (is resectable)
  • cannot be completely removed with surgery (is unresectable)

Most gallbladder cancers are found at a late stage where the cancer has spread and cannot be completely removed with surgery.

You may be offered one or a combination of the following treatments for gallbladder cancer.

Surgery

Complete removal of the cancer by surgery is the most effective treatment for gallbladder cancer. The type of surgery you have will depend on the size and location of the tumour and if the cancer has spread.

If the cancer is only near the area where it started, it may be possible to completely remove the tumour. If the cancer has not spread beyond the gallbladder, then the gallbladder is removed (called a cholecystectomy). If the cancer has spread to other tissue around the gallbladder, then the gallbladder and the other tissue will be removed.

If the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, it may not be possible to fully remove the cancer. Surgery may still be done to relieve symptoms of advanced gallbladder cancer such as a blocked bile duct. This may include inserting a stent to open the blocked bile duct or making a bypass to drain bile blocked by the tumour.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy may be used to relieve symptoms of advanced gallbladder cancer. Sometimes radiation therapy may be given after surgery (called adjuvant radiation therapy).

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy cancer cells. It may be given after surgery (called adjuvant chemotherapy treatment). If surgery cannot be done or if the cancer has spread to distant parts of the body, you may get chemotherapy. It may be used alone or combined with radiation therapy.

If you can’t have or don’t want cancer treatment

You may want to consider a type of care to make you feel better without treating the cancer itself. This may be because the cancer treatments don’t work anymore, they’re not likely to improve your condition or they may cause side effects that are hard to cope with. There may also be other reasons why you can’t have or don’t want cancer treatment.

Talk to your healthcare team. They can help you choose care and treatment for advanced cancer.

Follow-up care

Follow-up after treatment is an important part of cancer care. These regular visits allow your healthcare team to follow your progress and recovery from treatment.

Follow-up for gallbladder cancer varies depending on the treatments used and your prognosis.

Clinical trials

A few clinical trials in Canada are open to people with gallbladder cancer. Clinical trials look at new and better ways to prevent, find and treat cancer. Find out more about clinical trials.

Questions to ask about treatment

To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about treatment.

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