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Cancer of the gallbladder, an uncommon cancer, is a disease in which cancer (malignant) cells are found in the tissues of the gallbladder. The gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ that lies just under the liver in the upper abdomen. Bile, a fluid made by the liver, is stored in the gallbladder. When food is being broken (digested) in the stomach and the intestines, bile is released from the gallbladder and liver to the first part of the small intestine. The bile helps to digest fat.

Cancer of the gallbladder is more common in women than in men. It is also more common in people who have hard clusters of material in their gallbladder (gallstones). Cancer of the gallbladder is hard to find (diagnose) because the gallbladder is hidden behind other organs in the abdomen. Cancer of the gallbladder is sometimes found after the gallbladder is removed for other reasons. The symptoms of cancer of the gallbladder may be like other diseases of the gallbladder, such as gallstones or infection, and there may be no symptoms in the early stages.

You should see your doctor if you have pain above the stomach, you lose weight without trying to, you have a fever that won’t go away, or your skin turns yellow (jaundice). If you have such symptoms, your doctor may order x-rays and other tests to see what is wrong. However, usually the cancer cannot be found unless you have surgery. During surgery, a cut is made in your abdomen so that the gallbladder and other nearby organs and tissues can be examined. Your chance of recovery (prognosis) and choice of treatment depend on the stage of the cancer (whether it is just in the gallbladder or has spread to other places) and your general state of health.

Once cancer of the gallbladder is found, more tests will be done to find out if cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body. There are treatments for all patients with cancer of the gallbladder. Three treatments are used:

Surgery (taking out the cancer or relieving symptoms of the cancer in an operation)
Radiation Therapy (using high dose x-rays to kill cancer cells)
Chemotherapy (using drugs to kill cancer)

Surgery is the most common treatment for cancer of the gallbladder if it has not spread to surrounding tissues. Your doctor may take out the gallbladder in an operation called a cholecystectomy. Part of the liver around the gallbladder and lymph nodes in the abdomen may also be removed. If the cancer has spread and it cannot be removed, your doctor may do surgery to relieve symptoms.

Treatment for cancer of the gallbladder depends on the stage of the disease and your general health. There are three stages of treatment options: localized (cancer is found only in the tissues that make up the wall of the gallbladder, and it can be removed completely in an operation), unresectable (all of the cancer cannot be removed in an operation. Cancer has spread to the tissues around the gallbladder), and recurrent (the cancer has come back after it has been treated).