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Gallbladder cancer

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Potential side effects of surgery for gallbladder cancer

Side effects can occur with any type of treatment for gallbladder cancer, but not everyone has them or experiences them in the same way. Side effects of surgery will depend mainly on the:

  • type and extent of surgery
  • person's overall health

Side effects can happen any time during surgery. Some may happen during, immediately after, or a few days or weeks after surgery. Most side effects go away after surgery. Late side effects can occur months or years after surgery. Some side effects may last a long time or be permanent.

The gallbladder is not a vital organ, so the body can function without it. If doctors need to remove it because of disease, there are few long-term effects. Many of the side effects of gallbladder cancer surgery happen when more extensive surgery is done and other organs are removed.

It is important to report side effects to the healthcare team.


Pain often occurs after gallbladder surgery because of trauma to the tissue during surgery. Pain-relieving medications are used to control pain. It may take time for pain to go away after surgery, depending on the procedure done, how people heal and how they tolerate pain. Talk to the doctor or healthcare team if pain does not go away or medicines do not relieve the pain.

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Nausea and vomiting

Nausea and vomiting can occur because of the effects of general anesthesiaanesthesiaThe loss of some or all feeling or awareness. used during gallbladder surgery. The healthcare team will often give medicines to prevent and control nausea and vomiting. Nausea and vomiting is usually a temporary side effect and often goes away a few days after surgery.

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Some people develop a wound infection after gallbladder surgery. This is not a common side effect, but it can potentially occur after any type of surgery. Sometimes tubes are placed into the wound to drain excess fluid. A thin rubber tube (T-tube) may be used after the gallbladder has been removed. This tube drains bile onto a bandage or into a small bag. The T-tube is removed when there is very little bile drainage.

Antibiotics may be used to help prevent or treat an infection. Wound infections are a temporary side effect of surgery.

Report signs of infection, such as redness, pus, foul-smelling drainage, increased swelling or tenderness of the incision site and increased temperature (fever) to the doctor or the healthcare team.

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Bleeding or hemorrhage can occur if a blood vessel is not sealed off during gallbladder surgery, or if the person has a blood clotting disorder. The liver, which has a very rich blood supply, is very close to the gallbladder. There can be some bleeding from the liver after gallbladder surgery. Nursing staff frequently check bandages and drains for excessive bleeding right after surgery. If bleeding occurs and is severe enough, the surgeon may have to take the person back to the operating room to find where bleeding is coming from and to stop it.

A small amount of bloody drainage may be expected after surgery. Report excessive amounts to the doctor or the healthcare team.

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Lung problems

Lung problems can occur because the incision for gallbladder surgery is often in the upper abdomen. Other factors, such as pre-existing lung problems or smoking, can also contribute to lung problems.

One of the main lung problems that may occur after gallbladder surgery is a lung infection (pneumoniapneumoniaInfection of one or both lungs caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi. Signs and symptoms include fever, chills, cough with sputum (phlegm), chest pain and shortness of breath.). Stopping smoking before surgery helps to prevent lung infection. Frequent deep breathing and coughing, and turning in bed, help to reduce the chance of lung problems after surgery. The person may be given a special device called an incentive spirometer to breathe into to help them take deep breaths.

Report shortness of breath, fever and a dry or productive cough to your doctor or the healthcare team.

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Blood clots

A blood clot in the legs is called a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). A DVT can occur right after gallbladder surgery because the person cannot move around very well, along with other factors. In the most serious cases, a blood clot can break off and travel to the lungs (called a pulmonary embolus or PE). This causes shortness of breath and affects the ability of the blood to get oxygen from the lungs.

Frequent position changes, leg and ankle exercises and early mobility help reduce blood clots. Low doses of a blood thinner, such as heparin, may be given to help reduce the risk of blood clots in people at high risk for developing them. If a person smokes, stopping smoking before surgery helps to reduce the risk of blood clots.

Report any redness, swelling, pain or cramps in the calf of the leg, or shortness of breath, to the doctor or healthcare team.

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Up to 20% of people who have their gallbladder removed (cholecystectomy) will have diarrhea or more frequent bowel movements. After the gallbladder is removed, bile flows directly into the small intestine because the gallbladder is no longer there to store it. Stools also tend to stay in the bowel for less time.

Diarrhea may occur immediately after gallbladder surgery. It usually improves with time, but in some cases diarrhea can last for many years. There are ways to help control and treat diarrhea after a cholecystectomy.

  • The doctor may recommend anti-diarrhea drugs to slow down the bowel.
  • Some changes in diet may help with diarrhea. Eating high-fibre foods can help absorb extra water in the bowel and make stools more bulky. Avoid foods and beverages that can make diarrhea worse, such as caffeinated coffee, tea or soft drinks, alcohol, dairy products and spicy, fried or fatty foods.

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Post-cholecystectomy syndrome

Post-cholecystectomy syndrome (PCS) can sometimes occur after the gallbladder is removed by surgery (cholecystectomy) because it alters the flow of bile. Symptoms include heartburn, indigestion, persistent pain in the upper-right or lower abdomen, diarrhea, bloating or gas, fever or jaundice. PCS can occur right after cholecystectomy or much later. The healthcare team will recommend medicines to control symptoms. Sometimes surgery is needed to correct the problem.

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Bile leak

Bile leak or bile duct injury is a problem that can sometimes occur after gallbladder surgery. It occurs more often after laparoscopic cholecystectomy than open cholecystectomy. Bile leaks or bile duct injury can cause abdominal pain. An ERCP may be done to determine the source of the leak and place a stent to help drain the bile. Surgery is sometimes needed to repair the leak or injury to the bile duct.

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Digestion problems

Problems with digestion can occur if the person had a radical resection that included a Whipple procedure (pancreaticoduodenectomy). The pancreas makes digestive enzymes, and removing part of the pancreas can cause a decrease in the amount of enzymes. About 1 in 3 people who have a Whipple procedure need to take enzymes to help them digest food.

After gallbladder surgery, people may not feel like eating (anorexia), or they may feel bloated or full faster. It may be easier for them to eat small meals throughout the day rather than having 3 large meals each day. Snacking between meals can also help the body absorb food and lessen bloating or feeling too full.

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Problems with blood sugar levels

After radical resection surgery, people may experience some problems with blood sugar levels if part of the pancreas was removed. Pancreatic tissue produces insulin, which is needed to control blood sugar levels. People may develop diabetes if pancreatic tissue is removed. The chance of developing diabetes is greater if the person had blood sugar problems before surgery. The healthcare team will monitor blood sugar levels. Changes in diet and medicines may be needed to control high blood sugar levels.

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