Surgery for gallbladder cancer
Surgery can be used to remove the gallbladder. If the cancer has spread outside the gallbladder, you may have a larger operation called a radical cholecystectomy.
Surgery for gallbladder cancer is done by a surgeon who specialises in gallbladder and liver surgery. You will be referred to the specialist if tests show you may have gallbladder cancer, or if it is found by chance during surgery.
If the cancer is at a very early stage, the aim of treatment is usually to cure it. You may have surgery just to remove the gallbladder.
Most people need to have a larger operation called a radical cholecystectomy (see below).
Sometimes gallbladder cancer is found after surgery for gallstones. If this happens, you may need further surgery to try to make sure all the cancer has been removed.
Sometimes the cancer is found by chance during keyhole surgery to remove the gallbladder (laparoscopic cholecystectomy). If this happens, the surgeon will stop the operation. You will then have an appointment with a gallbladder cancer specialist.
In this operation, the surgeon removes:
If the tumour has grown through the gallbladder wall and into a nearby organ, the surgeon will remove all or part of this too. If it is not possible to remove all the cancer, the surgeon may remove as much of it as possible. This can help control the cancer and improve symptoms.
After your operation, you will stay in an intensive care ward for the first 2 days. You will then be moved to a general ward until you recover. Most people need to be in hospital for about 7 to 10 days after the operation.
After their gallbladder has been removed, some people may have problems with:
These problems usually improve within a few weeks. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any of these problems. They can give you advice and medicines to help.
We have more information about coping with bladder and bowel problems.
Below is a sample of the sources used in our gallbladder cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Biliary Cancer: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow up. 2016. Vol 27, 5. pp.28-37.
Uptodate: Surgical management of gallbladder cancer. 2018. www.uptodate.com/contents/surgical-management-of-gallbladder-cancer
This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Dr Paul Ross, Consultant Medical Oncologist.
Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.