What gallbladder cancer treatment options are available to you will 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 cancer
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 portions of the liver and bile ducts that surround the gallbladder.
If your gallbladder cancer is very small and can be removed completely with cholecystectomy, you may not need additional treatments. If there's a risk that cancer cells may remain after surgery, your doctor may recommend chemotherapy or other treatments.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill rapidly growing cells, including cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be administered through a vein in your arm, in pill form or both.
Chemotherapy might be recommended after surgery if there's a risk that some gallbladder cancer cells might remain. It can also be used to control the cancer if surgery isn't an option.
Radiation therapy uses high-powered beams of energy, such as X-rays and protons, to kill cancer cells. The energy beams come from a machine that moves around you as you lie on a table.
Radiation therapy is sometimes combined with chemotherapy after surgery for gallbladder cancer if the cancer couldn't be removed completely. Radiation therapy can also control gallbladder cancer that's causing pain if surgery isn't an option.
Targeted drug therapy
Targeted drug treatments focus on specific weaknesses present within cancer cells. By blocking these weaknesses, targeted drug treatments can cause cancer cells to die. Targeted drugs might be an option for people with advanced gallbladder cancer.
Your doctor may test your cancer cells to see which targeted drugs are most likely to work for you.
Immunotherapy is a drug treatment that helps your immune system to fight cancer. Your body's disease-fighting immune system might not attack cancer because the cancer cells produce proteins that make it hard for the immune system cells to recognize the cancer cells as dangerous. Immunotherapy works by interfering with that process.
Immunotherapy might be an option for treating advanced gallbladder cancer.