What is gallbladder cancer?

Gallbladder cancer occurs when cells in the gallbladder undergo abnormal changes and grow uncontrollably to form a mass or lump known as a tumour.1,2 Gallbladder cancer is regarded as being a rare cancer.1

The gallbladder is a small organ shaped like a pear. It’s located underneath the liver on the right side of your body.3 The gallbladder concentrates and stores a fluid called bile.3 Bile is produced by the liver and breaks down fat in the food we eat.4

There are several types of gallbladder cancer. Adenocarcinoma, which makes up approximately 85% of all gallbladder cancer diagnosis, usually starts in the epithelial cells (mucus-releasing cells) that line the inside of the gallbladder.2

Other types of gallbladder cancer may include:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Sarcoma
  • Lymphoma

Causes of gallbladder cancer

It is not clear what causes gallbladder cancer, however risk factors can include:2,5

  • Family history, via a first-degree relative who has had gallbladder cancer
  • Being overweight or obese increases the risk of getting gallstones, which in-turn may increase the risk of gallbladder cancer
  • Someone who has had gallstones or inflammation of the gallbladder
  • Smoking may increase the risk of gallbladder cancer
  • Gallbladder and bile duct conditions, which may include gallbladder polyps, choledochal cysts (bile-filled cysts) and calcified gallbladder (known also as porcelain gallbladder).
  • The risk of being diagnosed with gallbladder cancer increases with age

If you have any questions or concerns relating to the potential causes of gallbladder cancer, please speak with your GP or specialist.

Symptoms of gallbladder cancer

Diagnosis of gallbladder cancer in the early stages can be difficult as it may not cause symptoms. Symptoms of gallbladder cancer may include:2 

  • Abdominal (tummy) pain, usually on the upper right side
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • High temperature (fever)
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
  • Dark yellow urine or pale coloured stools
  • Itchy skin (without a visible rash)
  • A lump in the abdomen
  • Feeling weak or fatigued
  • Unexplained weight loss

Having any of these symptoms does not necessarily mean that you have gallbladder cancer, however if you have any queries or concerns, it is recommended to speak with your GP or specialist.

How is gallbladder cancer usually diagnosed?

Following an appointment with your GP, they may refer you to a specialist for tests and scans. These tests may include:2

  • Physical examination
  • Blood tests
  • Scans – that may include a computed tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, endoscopic ultrasound or ultrasound
  • Cholangiography (an x-ray of the bile duct)
  • Laparoscopy (or keyhole camera investigation surgery)

Treatment options for gallbladder cancer

Your doctor will be able to discuss recommended treatment options with you, and these usually depend upon the type of gallbladder cancer that you have, how advanced it is, age, plus general health and preferences. Treatment options may include:

  • Surgery: regarded as the main treatment option for gallbladder cancer, and could involve gallbladder removal2
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy uses high energy X-rays or other particles to treat cancer and can be used at all stages2
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is an approach to cancer therapy which involves the administration of medicine, usually orally or by injection, which is intended to kill cancer cells or minimise their growth and spread. Chemotherapy can be used in conjunction with other cancer treatments.2,6

Learn more about potential treatment side effects

Side effects of cancer treatment

All cancer treatments may have side effects.7,8 The type and severity of side effects will vary between individuals.7,8 You can ask your doctor for detailed information about the side effects which you may experience with any treatment recommended for you.


Suggestions for how to stay well during treatment

Whilst there are some things you can try which might help minimise/cope with any treatment side effects, you should also speak with your treatment team for further guidance:



  • Rest when needed – it is important to acknowledge when you are fatigued and rest when you need to7,8

Diet & eating:

  • Aim to maintain a healthy diet.7 You can speak with your clinician regarding the design of a suitable eating plan during your treatment
  • Appetite changes are common, and you may experience taste changes or nausea. Help manage this by eating small, frequent snacks and avoiding smells that make you nauseous7
  • Drink adequate water7


  • Ask for and accept help from family, friends and neighbours8
  • Reach out to support groups and others who have had cancer treatment8
  • Be open with employers about your treatment and discuss flexible working options if you need them.


  • Record your side effects in a diary or journal9


  • Speak to your doctor about incorporating some gentle exercise into your weekly routine7,8

Discover more about patient care at GenesisCare

At GenesisCare, we understand that a cancer diagnosis can be emotional and life-changing -  some things you might feel are fear, anxiety, stress and/or a low mood.10 We aim to offer a personalised care experience, as our care team will know your name and get to know who you are as a person. Your care will be managed by a multidisciplinary team of passionate healthcare professionals who have special clinical interests i.e.:

  • radiation oncologists,
  • medical oncologists,
  • registered nurses,
  • radiation therapists,
  • physicists, and
  • dedicated team of support staff.

Please contact your local GenesisCare centre for more details on the services available. View a list of our centres here.

Other helpful services

Further cancer  information, resources, and support services are available to assist you during your cancer journey. These may include:

Cancer Council Australia
13 11 20

Australian Cancer Research Foundation
02 9223 7833

Rare Cancers Australia
1800 257 600

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Any medical procedure or treatment involving the use of radiation carries risks, including skin irritation and associated pain. Before proceeding with treatment, you should discuss the risks and benefits of the treatment with an appropriately qualified health practitioner. Individual treatment outcomes and experiences will vary.