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Types of Treatment for Gallbladder Cancer

Woman wearing a hospital gown listening to a doctor

Treatment for gallbladder cancer is either local or systemic. You may have just one treatment or a combination of treatments.

Local treatments remove, destroy, or control cancer cells in one area of the body. Surgery and radiation are local treatments.

Systemic treatments destroy or control cancer cells throughout the whole body. Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment.

Goals of treatment for gallbladder cancer

Each type of treatment has a different goal. Your doctor will explain the benefits and possible side effects of each option. Discuss any concerns you have before making a decision. Here is a list of various treatments for gallbladder cancer and their goals:

  • Surgery. The goal of surgery is often to take out all or as much of the tumor as possible. It may be necessary to take out the gallbladder and nearby tissues. That may include some of the liver, the bile duct, and lymph nodes. Surgery may also be done to ease symptoms and not necessarily to remove the whole tumor.

  • Radiation therapy. Radiation uses X-rays to kill cancer cells in a specific area. This treatment may be used after surgery to try to get rid of any cancer cells that are left. It can also be used (often along with chemotherapy) to treat some cancers that cannot be removed with surgery, or to help relieve symptoms from advanced cancers. 

  • Chemotherapy. The goal of this treatment is to reduce the chance that the cancer will spread to other parts of your body. It is also used to kill cancer cells that may have already spread beyond the gallbladder. Chemotherapy is usually given in combination with surgery or radiation. When given with radiation, chemotherapy low doses may be used with the goal of making the local effects of the radiation stronger rather than as a systemic treatment. Chemotherapy may be given by itself if the cancer has spread beyond the gallbladder and cannot be completely removed by surgery.

New ways to treat gallbladder cancer are being tested in clinical trials. Before beginning treatment, ask your doctor if there are any clinical trials you should consider. In addition, it is wise to consider getting a second opinion about treatment options.