Gallbladder cancer is cancer that starts in your gallbladder—a pear-shaped organ below the liver in the upper right abdomen. The gallbladder concentrates and stores bile, fluid made in the liver that helps digest the fats in foods as they pass through the small intestine.
According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 10,500 people in the United States are diagnosed with gallbladder cancer each year. Gallbladder cancer develops in the innermost layer of tissue and spreads through the outer layers. Most gallbladder cancers are adenocarcinomas, cancer that starts in cells. Papillary adenocarcinoma is a rarer form that is not as likely to spread and has a better prognosis. Surgery is a common way to treat gallbladder cancer, offering a cure or palliative relief, depending upon how advanced the cancer is.
Surgeons at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) specialize in hepatobiliary diseases, including gallbladder cancer. As the surgical team for the Pancreas and Biliary Tumor Center at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center (DF/BWCC), we offer world-class patient care with leading-edge research in the fight against pancreatic cancer, bile duct cancer and gallbladder cancer. Our board certified surgeons are leaders in minimally invasive surgery for gallbladder cancer, performing a large volume of simple, open and radical cholecystectomy operations. Our surgeons pioneered the use of laparoscopic techniques in treating hepatobiliary diseases and are among the first to use robotic and other minimally-invasive technologies in making these procedures safer.
Factors that contribute to an increased risk for gallbladder cancer include:
Gallbladder cancer often causes symptoms similar to gallstones or gallbladder inflammation. Typical symptoms include:
If you are having symptoms of gallbladder cancer, your surgeon will ask about your health history, your family’s history of cancer and risk factors. Diagnostic tests may include:
After gallbladder cancer has been diagnosed, tests are performed to determine if cancer cells have spread within the gallbladder or to other parts of the body.
The TNM system, developed by the American Joint Committee on Cancer and the International Union Against Cancer, is a standard system used to stage gallbladder cancer. TNM represents:
Gallbladder cancer can also be divided into these three categories:
Depending upon the stage of gallbladder cancer, surgery can provide a cure or offer palliative relief from symptoms. Surgeons at BWH are internationally recognized surgical specialists who are faculty at Harvard Medical School. They have years of experience in gallbladder cancer surgery and have perfected many of the most progressive surgical procedures including:
The operation may also remove:
You will receive a thorough diagnostic examination to evaluate if you have gallbladder cancer and determine what course of treatment is needed. Careful monitoring and the involvement of an experienced surgeon are important to the successful outcome for patients with gallbladder cancer.
If you are having surgery or a procedure, you will likely be scheduled for a visit to the Weiner Center for Preoperative Evaluation for pre-operative information and tests.
The day of surgery, you will be cared for in the operating room by surgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses who specialize in surgery for patients with gallbladder cancer. After surgery, you will recover in the post-surgical care unit where you will receive comprehensive care by an experienced surgical and nursing staff.
The Pancreas and Biliary Tumor Center at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center provides advanced multidisciplinary care for patients with gastrointestinal diseases, such as gallbladder cancer. Our treatment team includes surgeons, surgical oncologists, medical and radiation oncologists, radiologists, pathologists, endoscopists, anesthesiologists and gastroenterologists. In addition, patients have full access to BWH’s world-renowned academic medical community with its diverse specialists and state-of-the-art facilities.
Contact one of our cancer surgeons in the list at the top of the page to make an appointment.
Learn more about gallbladder cancer in our health library.
Visit the Kessler Health Education Library in the Bretholtz Center for Patients and Families to access computers and knowledgeable staff.
Visit the Weiner Center for Preoperative Evaluation.
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