Gallbladder cancer care at every step
No matter where you are in your gallbladder cancer journey, you can count on our experienced team every step of the way — from diagnosis through treatment and beyond.
What does the gallbladder do?
Your gallbladder is a small, pouchlike organ in your GI tract (or digestive system) that’s found on the right side of your abdomen, underneath your liver. It’s responsible for storing bile (a fluid produced by the liver that helps with digestion). When you eat rich or fatty foods, this bile is released to help break them down.
What is gallbladder cancer?
Gallbladder cancer develops when normal, healthy cells in the gallbladder begin to grow and function differently. These cancerous cells build up and form a mass called a tumor, which exists as a lump inside the body and can spread.
Types of gallbladder cancer
There are several types of gallbladder cancer, including:
- Adenocarcinoma – The most common form of gallbladder cancer, it forms within connective tissue inside the gallbladder. There are different types of adenocarcinoma, named for how the cells look under the microscope.
- Papillary – A rare form of adenocarcinoma, these cells resemble fingers when viewed under a microscope.
- Non-papillary – The most common type of adenocarcinoma, these cells have a clear appearance under a microscope.
- Mucinous – This is an extremely rare form of gallbladder cancer that forms in cells that produce mucus. When viewed under a microscope, the cells appear to be floating in pools of mucus.
- Squamous cell carcinoma – This rare and often aggressive type develops in the bile ducts around the gallbladder.
- Carcinosarcoma –This a rare form of cancer that develops in soft tissue in or around the gallbladder.
- Adenosquamous carcinoma – A rare type of cancer that can form in or around the gallbladder.
What are the symptoms of gallbladder cancer?
In the early stages, you may not have any symptoms of gallbladder cancer. However, for different stages of gallbladder cancer, symptoms vary and may include:
- Abdominal pain or lumps
- Bloating, especially after eating
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
- Nausea or vomiting
- Persistent fever
- Unexplained weight loss
- Itchy skin
- Greasy or light-colored stools
Having these symptoms does not mean you have gallbladder cancer. In fact, there are several conditions that can cause similar symptoms, including gallstones or a gallbladder infection. If you’re having symptoms, it’s still important to speak to your doctor to rule out any other underlying health conditions.
Gallbladder cancer risk factors
Certain behaviors, genetics and risk factors can increase your chances of developing gallbladder cancer. These include:
- Smoking: Tobacco use, including smokeless tobacco, cigarettes and pipes, increases your risk of developing gallbladder cancer.
- Family history: If you have a family member who has been diagnosed with gallbladder cancer, your risk of developing it increases.
- Chronic gallbladder conditions: If you’ve previously had gallstones, porcelain gallbladder or polyps or cysts on your gallbladder, your risk for developing gallbladder cancer increases.
- Age: Your risk of developing gallbladder cancer increases as you get older, with most people being diagnosed between ages 65 and 75.
- Race: Those with Mexican or Native American descent have a higher chance of developing gallbladder cancer.
- Other risk factors: Other risk factors that can increase your risk of developing gallbladder cancer include:
- Exposure to certain industrial chemicals
- Being overweight
- Being female
How is gallbladder cancer diagnosed?
Screening tests that use the most advanced technology can detect gallbladder cancer in its earliest stages, when it’s most treatable. Some of the diagnostic tests your doctor may perform to test for gallbladder cancer include:
- Blood tests –These tests can rule out any gallbladder conditions that may be unrelated to cancer, such as gallstones or cysts.
- Biopsy – During a biopsy, your doctor removes a small sample of tissue using a thin needle or during a surgical procedure. They examine the tissue under a microscope to detect any cancerous cells (also called malignant cells).
- Imaging tests – Diagnostic imaging tests, such as MRIs, CT scans, ultrasounds and PET scans produce detailed pictures of your gallbladder. They can determine the size of tumors and whether they have grown or shrunk, or whether cancerous cells have spread to other areas of the body.
Gallbladder cancer treatment
Your team of gallbladder cancer specialists includes surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, nurse navigators and support staff. They work together and develop a personalized plan that puts you at the center to best treat your cancer.
Depending on the stage of your cancer, one or more of the following treatments may be recommended.
Surgery is a common method for treating gallbladder cancer. The latest techniques to treat cancers in the gallbladder, including minimally invasive surgery, may offer you the best outcomes and path for healing.
Our surgeons are highly trained and board certified, which means they have passed an optional national exam to demonstrate their medical expertise. Many of our surgeons are also fellowship trained, holding additional training in specific types of cancer surgery.
Chemotherapy is a drug-based treatment designed to slow the growth of or shrink tumors. Chemotherapy drugs can be given through an IV or taken in a pill form.
Your chemotherapy may be given:
- Before your surgery, to attempt to reduce the size of the tumor
- After your surgery, to destroy any cancer that remains in the area and reduce the chances of the cancer coming back
- Along with radiation therapy, which together are known as chemoradiation or chemoradiotherapy
Your team includes doctors called medical oncologists who specialize in chemotherapy. You’ll also have access to clinical trials that include testing new chemotherapy drugs and combinations of medications that aren’t widely available.
You’ll be treated in one of our state-of-the-art clinics, many of which have been recently renovated. They offer heated seats and individual TVs to help you relax and stay comfortable during treatment.
Radiation oncology uses radiation to control or destroy harmful cancer cells, with tools to treat each unique cancer.
Your clinical team can offer conventional radiotherapy treatments that include:
- External beam radiation, which uses special technology to send X-ray radiation (photons) to the tumor from outside the body
- Internal radiation (brachytherapy), which targets the tumor using safe levels of radiation inside the body through radioactive tubes or radioactive seeds
- Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), which uses a 3D image of the tumor to deliver high-precision radiotherapy that fits its exact outline
- Image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT), which is used to localize the radiation beam daily and treat cancers in areas of the body that move during and between treatments. This includes cone beam CT scans to accurately view the tumor and target it during treatment.
- Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT), which uses precise conformal beams of radiation to focus high doses of radiation to just the tumor, with very little damage to surrounding healthy tissues
CyberKnife® robotic radiosurgery is a non-invasive treatment for tumors that are hard to reach or inoperable. This robotic therapy targets complex tumors — including cancerous and non-cancerous tumors — by delivering high doses of targeted radiation safely, anywhere in the body. And it’s offered at the Frank M. and Dorothea Henry Cancer Center at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre.
No incisions involved. So you have quicker treatments, less pain and faster recovery. Learn more about CyberKnife.
Gallbladder cancer care at Geisinger
Your cancer journey is just that — yours. We understand how personal it is,which is why our cancer care team gets to know you along your journey. While some of our cancer specialists are trained in treating specific cancers, our entire team works together to help you fight your cancer.
- The knowledge you need – Your cancer team is powered by surgeons, doctors and specialists with years of training and experience. Their expertise has been honed by treating many people with gallbladder cancer every year. And their focus is on delivering the care best suited to your needs.
- Care from all sides – Cancer isn’t simple, so we put all our best minds to work on it. Your care team is multidisciplinary, which means it has many physicians from different specialties who come together to create a personalized treatment plan for you. That means you can see your care team in one location, all during the same visit.
- Care designed for you, where you live – With locations throughout northeast, central and south-central Pennsylvania, our experienced cancer team provides consultations and comprehensive care. We offer leading-edge treatment options and tailored-to-you care, backed by the expertise and innovation of a nationally recognized health system.
- Comprehensive specialty care – From chemotherapy, radiation and minimally invasive surgery options to national clinical trials and genetic testing, our gallbladder cancer specialists are dedicated to offering innovative treatment options and personalized care in convenient locations, so you don’t have to travel far. We’ll work with you to develop a personalized care plan based on your individual needs.
- Leading-edge clinical trials – Our cancer research and clinical trials give you access to new treatments before they become widely available. Participating in a trial may help you get better even if standard approaches haven’t worked. Find a clinical trial.
- Genetic testing and counseling programs – Our cancer genetics programs determine whether you face a higher-than-normal cancer risk. Special programs such as MyCode®, which are only available at Geisinger, detect the earliest signs of certain cancers so you can start treatment right away. Our care and guidance may even help you avoid a cancer diagnosis. Learn about MyCode.
- Cancer survivorship program – Just because your treatment is complete doesn’t mean your journey has ended. We offer a variety of support resources focused on helping you live your healthiest life. Learn about patient resources.