Gallbladder Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment - A Detailed Guide

In many cases, gallbladder cancer has diagnostic and therapeutic challenges due to the non-presentation of symptoms until the advanced stages. Imaging techniques like ultrasound and CT scans help in gallbladder cancer diagnosis. The treatment options include chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy. Early detection improves prognosis and treatment outcomes in gallbladder cancer patients.

What are Gallbladder Cancer Diagnosis Tests?

Following are some of the options for a gallbladder cancer diagnosis:

Physical Examination

Initially, an individual experiencing the symptoms of gallbladder cancer may be asked to undergo a comprehensive physical evaluation to detect the correct cause of their symptoms.

A physical examination for gallbladder cancer may reveal nonspecific symptoms like jaundice, abdominal pain, and weight loss. Palpation might detect a palpable mass in the right upper quadrant or hepatomegaly. However, as most of the symptoms of gallbladder cancer are nonspecific and may overlap with others, gallbladder cancer diagnosis is through imaging studies such as ultrasound, CT scans, or MRI and is usually confirmed with biopsy.


A biopsy for gallbladder cancer involves obtaining a tissue sample from the suspicious area for examination under a microscope. The samples may be obtained through surgery or minimally invasive techniques such as endoscopy or percutaneous needle biopsy. Depending on the location and size of the sample required, it helps confirm the presence of cancerous cells.

A biopsy also helps oncologists study the distinctive characteristics of the cancer cells and differentiate between the different types of gallbladder cancer. This is crucial for an accurate diagnosis. Histopathological analysis also guides gallbladder carcinoma treatment decisions, including surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy, and provides valuable information about the progression of the disease and prognosis.

Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)

Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) plays a vital role in diagnosing and managing gallbladder cancer by visualizing the biliary tree and pancreatic ducts. During this procedure, a flexible endoscope is inserted through the mouth into the duodenum to inject contrast material into the bile ducts for detailed imaging. Further, ERCP may also be used for therapeutic procedures like stent placement or bile duct drainage to reduce the symptoms caused by biliary obstruction in advanced gallbladder cancer.

Percutaneous Cholangiography

Percutaneous cholangiography is a procedure used to diagnose gallbladder cancer. The surgeon inserts a needle into the skin to the bile ducts under imaging guidance to inject contrast material. The contrast material helps visualize the biliary tree. The technique identifies blockages or abnormalities indicative of gallbladder cancer. Percutaneous cholangiography provides important information for planning gallbladder carcinoma treatment to relieve biliary obstruction in patients with gallbladder cancer.


Laparoscopy is a minimally invasive procedure used to diagnose gallbladder cancer. It involves inserting a small camera through tiny incisions in the abdomen to visualize the gallbladder and surrounding organs. If further evaluation is required, tissue samples can be obtained during the procedure. Laparoscopy helps detect the presence of gallbladder cancer, determine its spread, and assess surgical viability.

Blood Tests

Blood tests for gallbladder cancer diagnosis include liver function tests to assess liver health and the presence of bile duct obstruction. Elevated levels of bilirubin, alkaline phosphatase, and transaminases may indicate tumor-associated liver damage. Tumor markers such as CA 19-9 and CEA may sometimes be elevated. However, the presence of these markers does not always indicate gallbladder cancer. Although blood tests provide valuable information about the liver's health status, patients need to undergo imaging tests and biopsies to diagnose gallbladder cancer.

Computed Tomography (CT) Scan

Oncologists may recommend that patients undergo CT scans to diagnose gallbladder cancer. CT scans provide detailed and clear cross-sectional images of the abdomen, allowing a clear view of the gallbladder and surrounding structures. They can also identify gallbladder masses and their spread into adjacent or distant organs. Contrast-enhanced CT scans also provide images of the vascular involvement and nearby lymph nodes.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

A gallbladder MRI scan assists in diagnosing gallbladder cancer by providing detailed images of soft tissues. It allows precise visualization of the gallbladder and adjacent structures. The images obtained with MRI detect tumors, evaluate their spread, and determine the involvement of nearby organs. MRI also detects liver metastases and assesses vascular invasion. Its superior soft tissue contrast allows for comprehensive gallbladder cancer evaluation and staging.

Endoscopic Ultrasonography (EUS)

Endoscopic ultrasonography is a diagnostic tool for gallbladder cancer. It involves using an endoscope with an ultrasound probe into the digestive tract to obtain high-resolution images of the gallbladder and surrounding structures. EUS enables precise visualization of tumor size, depth of invasion, and lymph node involvement. Fine-needle aspiration can also be performed during EUS to obtain tissue samples for biopsy. This technique allows for accurate staging and gallbladder carcinoma treatment planning.


Ultrasound is a primary imaging modality for diagnosing gallbladder cancer. It uses sound waves to create images of the gallbladder and nearby tissues and organs. Ultrasound can detect gallbladder masses, assess their size, and evaluate for signs of invasion into adjacent tissues. Additionally, it helps identify gallstones, a common risk factor for gallbladder cancer. While ultrasound is helpful for initial evaluation, other advanced imaging techniques may be necessary for comprehensive gallbladder cancer evaluation and staging.

Positron Emission Tomography (PET) or PET-CT Scan

A PET scan (Positron Emission Tomography) also aids in a gallbladder cancer diagnosis, especially for detecting metastases and evaluating the magnitude of cancer spread. Injecting a radioactive tracer highlights areas of high metabolic activity, suggesting probable tumor locations. PET scans assist other imaging techniques by providing functional information and assisting in staging and gallbladder carcinoma treatment planning. However, PET scans have limited sensitivity for detecting primary gallbladder tumors due to physiological uptake in adjacent organs. They are often used alongside CT or MRI for comprehensive evaluation.

What are Different Gallbladder (GB) Cancer Treatments?

Once the diagnosis of gallbladder cancer is confirmed and staging is done, specialists will devise a personalized care plan after considering factors like the type of gallbladder cancer, its stage, the patient’s age, and their overall health condition. The following are the different approaches available for gallbladder cancer treatment:

Gallbladder Cancer Surgery

Surgery is the first line of treatment for early-stage gallbladder cancers. This approach focuses on removing the tumor along with a small portion of healthy tissues. Depending on the extent of the disease’s spread, the following surgical approaches are recommended for gallbladder cancer treatment.


Cholecystectomy is the procedure to remove the gallbladder surgically. It is the primary gallbladder carcinoma treatment modality for early-stage gallbladder cancer. In selected cases, it may also be seen as a curative approach for locally advanced tumors. However, a complete resection is crucial for optimal outcomes. In advanced or unresectable cases, cholecystectomy may be used with radiotherapy or chemotherapy to improve survival.

Radical Gallbladder Resection

This procedure involves the removal of the gallbladder, adjacent liver tissues, and regional lymph nodes to achieve complete tumor eradication. This extensive surgery is indicated for advanced or aggressive gallbladder cancers. However, radical resection is a complex surgery and is associated with higher complications compared to standard cholecystectomy. Oncologists carefully assess and select the patients for this surgery to ensure the potential benefits outweigh the risks.

Palliative Surgery

Palliative surgery for gallbladder cancer aims at alleviating symptoms and improving the quality of life in patients with advanced disease or unresectable tumors. For instance, procedures such as biliary bypass or stent placement are performed to relieve obstructive jaundice caused by bile duct compression. Surgical debulking may reduce tumor burden and alleviate pain. While palliative surgery does not offer a cure, it plays an important role in symptom management and enhancing patient comfort. Palliative surgery may also be used in combination with chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy for gallbladder cancer involves the targeted delivery of high-energy radiation to cancerous cells. It may be used as a primary gallbladder carcinoma treatment or adjuvant therapy after gallbladder tumor surgery. It aims to destroy cancer cells, shrink tumors, and alleviate symptoms such as pain or jaundice. External beam radiation therapy is commonly used. It is often combined with chemotherapy for enhanced effectiveness. The gallbladder carcinoma treatment improves quality of life and prolongs survival in patients with unresectable or recurrent gallbladder cancer.


It is one of the primary gallbladder carcinoma treatment options for advanced or metastatic gallbladder cancer. It involves administering gallbladder cancer medications to target and kill cancer cells throughout the body. Chemotherapy for gallbladder cancer may be administered before surgery to shrink tumors, post-surgery to reduce the risk of recurrence, or as palliative treatment to alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life. Combination therapies with targeted agents may also enhance treatment outcomes.


Immunotherapy is also a form of gallbladder carcinoma treatment that has a systemic approach. It modulates the body's immune system to fight cancer cells. Immune checkpoint inhibitors may be effective in advanced or metastatic disease. These drugs increase the immune response against cancer cells by blocking the pathways that shield the cancer cells from the attack of immune cells.

Why Choose HCG for Gallbladder Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment?

HCG Cancer Centre is the leading cancer hospital in India for gallbladder cancer treatment. The center is equipped with state-of-the-art facilities for gallbladder cancer diagnosis, such as gallbladder cancer radiology and gallbladder cancer biopsy tests. Through our full-fledged cancer surgery facilities, we help our patients undergo simple to complex gallbladder cancer operations, including cholecystectomy, bile duct resection, etc. We ensure that our patients receive the best quality and personalized care and return to the best state of health possible with fewer challenges.


Diagnosing gallbladder cancer requires a multifactorial approach that involves imaging techniques, biopsy, and blood tests. GB cancer treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy. The GB cancer treatment approaches recommended for each patient may vary depending on the disease stage and other individual patient circumstances. Customized care and optimized GB cancer treatment improve outcomes and enhance the quality of life for gallbladder cancer patients.

Frequently Asked Questions

Side effects of gallbladder carcinoma treatment may include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, hair loss, digestive problems, skin rash, and autoimmune reactions. However, specific side effects depend on the treatment options used.

Before planning treatment for gallbladder cancer, specialists consider numerous parameters, including the type of gallbladder cancer, its stage, and the patient’s overall health. Early-stage cases may be curable with surgery; however, as the stage advances, the success rates start declining. This underscores the importance of being aware of different gallbladder cancer symptoms and opting for regular health checkups, which support early detection.

Stage 4 gallbladder cancer is considered advanced or metastatic. The disease at this stage is managed with a combination of chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy. These treatments aim at controlling the disease progression, prolonging survival, and improving the quality of life for patients.

The protocol for GB cancer treatment varies depending on the stage and extent of the disease. The treatment plan often involves surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy.

Gallbladder cancer can be challenging to treat, especially when diagnosed at advanced stages. Limited early symptoms and aggressive tumor behavior pose challenges in treatment. Treatment success depends on early detection, multidisciplinary care, and customized treatment approaches.

For patients with stage 4 gallbladder cancer, life expectancy with treatment varies significantly depending on various factors, which include the type of gallbladder cancer, its aggressiveness, the organs affected by the disease, and the overall health condition of the patient. Depending on individual case parameters, treatment for stage 4 gallbladder cancer may result in delayed disease progression, prolonged survival, reduced pain and discomfort, and a relatively better quality of life.

While there is no way you can prevent gallbladder cancer completely, you can reduce your chances of developing it. Learning about the different gallbladder cancer risk factors is crucial to planning the appropriate preventive strategies, which include adopting a healthy lifestyle, opting for regular health checkups, and being aware of the different signs of gallbladder cancer.