Gallbladder Cancer

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Gallbladder cancer is rare and can be hard to diagnose early because of its small size and position under your liver. Most gallbladder cancers are discovered after they've grown, so it's important to receive treatment as soon as possible to prevent the cancer from spreading to other organs. Duke’s team of specialists include experts in medical and surgical oncology, gastroenterology, and interventional radiology. We work together to ensure you receive fast and precise testing and a comprehensive plan for treating your cancer.

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Diagnosing Gallbladder Cancer

You may undergo several tests to confirm the presence of gallbladder cancer, determine its stage, and identify any possible spread. We also want to understand how the disease is affecting you. This allows us to create a personalized treatment plan that meets your needs.

Physical Exam

We look for physical symptoms of gallbladder cancer. People often experience abdominal pain, nausea, and jaundice, a yellowing of your skin or the whites of your eyes. If your gallbladder is swollen, your provider may be able to feel the tumor and identify its location. We will discuss your medical history as it may also help our diagnosis. You may be at higher risk for gallbladder cancer if you’ve had gallstones, are a woman, or are Native American.

Blood Tests

Blood tests will look for abnormal levels of certain enzymes or proteins and will help determine the health of your organs and whether the cancer has spread.

Advanced Imaging Tests

CT, MRI, positron emission tomography (PET), and X-ray scans identify the stage, type, and location of gallbladder cancer. The scans help your doctors recommend the most appropriate treatments.


A tissue sample may be removed and examined to determine if cancer is present. The procedure is typically performed via a minimally invasive process known as endoscopic ultrasound. A small tube with a camera and ultrasound probe is guided down your throat to your gallbladder and surrounding organs to capture high-quality images. During the procedure, your provider may also take tissue or fluid samples to test for the presence of cancer. 

If you have jaundice (yellowing of the skin), you may need to undergo an ERCP to place a stent into the blocked bile duct. During an ERCP, doctors use a flexible tube with a camera to view your bile ducts and other organs. They’ll inject a dye that flows through the bile ducts and use X-rays to view any blockages or tumors. 

Our Locations

Duke Health offers locations throughout the Triangle. Find one near you.

Gallbladder Cancer Treatments

Because your gallbladder functions in coordination with nearby organs, some cancer treatments may impact your bile ducts, pancreas, and/or intestines.. Our experts in surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy use robotic procedures and advanced techniques to minimize the impact on other organs as much as possible.

Exploratory (Diagnostic) Surgery for Early-Stage Cancer 

If tests indicate the cancer has spread, exploratory surgery may be performed so your surgeon can evaluate your gallbladder and surrounding organs. Tissue may be extracted for a biopsy during this procedure. The operation will also give your surgeon a more thorough understanding of where your cancer is and how to treat it as quickly as possible. Diagnostic, minimally invasive surgery is performed using small incisions and does not require an overnight stay. If surgeons discover tumors that need to be removed, they will be removed during the surgery. This may also help preserve the health of nearby organs and stop or slow the growth of the cancer.


In some cases, it may be necessary to remove your gallbladder and surrounding lymph nodes, and part of the liver adjacent to the gallbladder for both surgical treatment of the cancer and to stage the cancer. Your surgeon may perform this procedure using small incisions and a tube called a laparoscope that has a tiny camera at its end. This lets your surgeon clearly see your organs during the operation. In addition to the gallbladder, nearby liver tissue and lymph nodes may be removed to determine if the tumor has advanced or spread.

If the cancer has not spread, the surgery is a radical cholecystectomy, which means removing the gallbladder, adjacent lymph nodes, and part of the liver. 

Liver Surgery

If you have been diagnosed with advanced gallbladder cancer, typically you will get chemotherapy, and later, you may be a candidate to have part of your liver removed. 

Clinical Trials at Duke

Our cancer doctors work to develop new therapies and novel approaches to treating cancer and related symptoms through our clinical trials, which includes gallbladder cancer. View our ongoing clinical trials to see if you can participate in these studies.


If your cancer is advanced or has spread, you may have chemotherapy to kill or slow the growth of the tumor. This can be given as intravenous (IV) or oral medication.

Palliative Surgeries

If your gallbladder cancer has spread, it’s common for it to impact your bile ducts and nearby organs. Your surgeon may suggest treatments to remove the tumor or organs to relieve pain. A common procedure is a radiofrequency ablation, which uses high-energy beams to heat and break down your tumor. A gallbladder drain placement may be recommended to help relieve pain.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation is delivered directly to your gallbladder to slow or stop cancer growth. It is also used to help relieve pain and other symptoms of the cancer. This can be used before or after a surgical procedure as part of your treatment.

Why Choose Duke

We offer a range of options to treat your gallbladder cancer and optimize your quality of life. Our advanced training and expertise enable us to perform complex surgeries, including liver and pancreatic surgeries, when tumors spread to other organs.

Nationally Ranked Program
We are a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center and are part of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, an alliance of the nation’s leading cancer centers dedicated to improving care for our patients.

Expertise in Gallbladder Cancer Treatment
Duke surgeons perform complex surgical procedures to treat gallbladder cancer that require a high degree of experience and expertise. Studies show that patients who undergo complex surgical procedures in major cancer centers like ours experience fewer surgical complications, shorter hospital stays, and a faster recovery.

In-Person and Virtual Support
Our comprehensive support services range from helping patients minimize the side effects of treatment to coping with the emotional and psychological effects of diagnosis and treatment. View our cancer support groups in our event calendar.

Overcoming Dietary Challenges
Because gastrointestinal cancers have long-term impacts on your diet and health, your care team may refer you to Duke Health nutritionists who can help you find effective ways to eat well and feel your best. In addition to these experts, our providers at Duke Health & Well-Being use an integrative approach to care that treats your mind and body.

Best Cancer Hospital in North Carolina

Where you receive your cancer care is important. Duke University Hospital is proud of our team and the exceptional care they provide. They are why our cancer program is nationally ranked, and the highest-ranked program in North Carolina, according to U.S. News & World Report for 2024–2025.

This page was medically reviewed on 07/05/2024 by