Gallbladder & Bile Duct Cancers

  • Overview

  • Symptoms

  • Diagnosis

  • Treatment


The gallbladder is a small organ near the liver. It stores bile, the fluid made by the liver. The bile is released in the small intestine, where the fats are digested. Gallbladder and bile duct cancers are comparatively rare; they can begin in the main duct outside the liver (extrahepatic tumour) or in the liver itself (intrahepatic tumour)

Early Symptoms

  • Jaundice
  • Weakness or poor health generally
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bloating of the body
  • Fever and or fatigue
  • Swelling in the legs


  • Blood Tests
  • Imaging [CT scan, ultrasound, magnetic resonance Cholangiopancreatography (MRCP)]
  • PET scan
  • Biopsy
  • Endoscopy
  • Laparoscopy


Surgery: Cholecystectomy, which extracts the gallbladder and some of the lymph nodes and tissues surrounding it, is most effective in treating localized tumours. Bile duct surgery similarly removes the affected duct and lymph nodes in the vicinity.

Partial Hepatectomy: If the tumour has spread to the liver, this surgery removes the diseased part and, as a precaution, some normal tissue surrounding it. Sometimes, patients undergo portal vein embolisation, where blood supply is redirected to the healthy portion of the liver to make them more tolerant to partial hepatectomy.

Whipple Procedure: Also known as pancreatoduodenectomy, the procedure is used to combat extrahepatic bile duct cancer. It is an extensive operation that removes the gallbladder, and depending on the spread, part of the stomach and small intestine, the bile duct and the head of the pancreas.

Minimally Invasive Treatments: If the cancer is detected early, patients can get treated with image-guided procedures that drain the bile from the gallbladder or bile duct blocked by a tumour. These procedures are not intended to cure the cancer but relieve symptoms caused by the tumour like jaundice, nausea and vomiting.

Chemotherapy: If the cancer spreads to other areas even after surgery, several chemotherapy techniques are used to shrink the tumours.

Radiation Therapy: The above treatment procedures may be augmented by radiation therapy for better results.