What gallbladder cancer treatment options are available to you depend on the stage of your cancer, your overall health and your preferences. The initial goal of treatment is to remove the gallbladder cancer, but when that isn't possible, other therapies may help control the spread of the disease and keep you as comfortable as possible.
Surgery for early-stage gallbladder cancers
Surgery may be an option if you have an early-stage gallbladder cancer. Options include:
- Surgery to remove the gallbladder. Early gallbladder cancer that is confined to the gallbladder is treated with an operation to remove the gallbladder (cholecystectomy).
- Surgery to remove the gallbladder and a portion of the liver. Gallbladder cancer that extends beyond the gallbladder and into the liver is sometimes treated with surgery to remove the gallbladder, as well as a portion of the liver and bile ducts that surround the gallbladder.
It's not clear whether additional treatments after successful surgery can increase the chances that your gallbladder cancer won't return. Some studies have found this to be the case, so in some instances, your doctor may recommend chemotherapy, radiation therapy or a combination of both after surgery. Discuss the potential benefits and risks of additional treatment to decide what's right for you.
Treatments for late-stage gallbladder cancer
Surgery can't cure gallbladder cancer that has spread to other areas of the body. Instead, doctors use treatments that may relieve signs and symptoms of cancer and make you as comfortable as possible. Options may include:
- Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is a drug treatment that uses chemicals to kill cancer cells.
- Radiation therapy. Radiation uses high-powered beams of energy, such as X-rays, to kill cancer cells.
Procedures to relieve blocked bile ducts
Advanced gallbladder cancer can cause blockages in the bile ducts, causing further complications. Procedures to relieve the blockage may help. For instance, surgeons can place a hollow metal tube (stent) in a duct to hold it open or surgically reroute bile ducts around the blockage (biliary bypass).
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- Gallbladder cancer treatment (PDQ). National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/gallbladder/Patient/AllPages. Accessed May 23, 2011.
- Abeloff MD, et al. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Churchill Livingstone; 2008:1580.
- Blechacz B, et al. Tumors of the bile ducts, gallbladder and ampulla. In: Feldman M, et al. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease: Pathophysiology, Diagnosis, Management. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2010. http://www.mdconsult.com/books/about.do?eid=4-u1.0-B978-1-4160-6189-2..X0001-7--TOP&isbn=978-1-4160-6189-2&about=true&uniqId=229935664-2192. Accessed May 23, 2011.
- Hepatobiliary cancer. Fort Washington, Pa.: National Comprehensive Cancer Network. http://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/f_guidelines.asp. Accessed May 23, 2011.
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