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Gallbladder cancer

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Chemotherapy for gallbladder cancer

Chemotherapy is sometimes used to treat gallbladder cancer.

Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to treat cancer. It is usually a systemic therapy that circulates throughout the body and destroys cancer cells, including those that may have broken away from the primary tumour.

Few research studies support the effectiveness of chemotherapy in treating gallbladder cancer. It isn’t clear if this therapy helps people live longer. Because gallbladder cancer is rare, few people have had treatment with chemotherapy, which makes it difficult to fully evaluate its effectiveness.

Chemotherapy may be used:

  • to relieve pain or to control the symptoms of advanced gallbladder cancer (palliative chemotherapy)
  • with radiation therapy to make radiation therapy more effective (the drugs are called radiosensitizers) and for unresectable gallbladder cancer
  • as a treatment for gallbladder cancer that comes back (recurs) after treatment
  • after surgery to destroy cancer cells left behind and to reduce the risk of the cancer recurring (adjuvantadjuvantTreatment given in addition to the first-line therapy (the first or standard treatment) to help reduce the risk of a disease (such as cancer) coming back (recurring). chemotherapy)

Drugs, doses and schedules vary from person to person.

Chemotherapy drugs

Chemotherapy drugs may be used alone or in combination to treat gallbladder cancer. The most common drugs used to treat gallbladder cancer are:

  • 5-fluorouracil (Adrucil, 5-FU)
  • gemcitabine (Gemzar)
  • cisplatin (Platinol AQ)
  • capecitabine (Xeloda)

The most common chemotherapy combinations used to treat gallbladder cancer are:

  • 5-fluorouracil and cisplatin
  • gemcitabine and cisplatin
  • gemcitabine and 5-fluorouracil
  • gemcitabine and capecitabine

Since most chemotherapy drugs have not been found to be very effective against gallbladder cancer, researchers continue to look for more effective drugs for this rare type of cancer.


Chemotherapy drugs may also be combined with radiation therapy to make the cancer cells more sensitive to the effects of radiation. These drugs are called radiosensitizers. The drug used most often as a radiosensitizer is 5-fluorourarcil. Giving radiation therapy and chemotherapy together may be called chemoradiation.

For more detailed information on specific drugs, go to sources of drug information.

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


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