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Does Chemo Work on Gallbladder Cancer?

What is Gallbladder Cancer?

The gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ in the upper abdomen under the liver. Gallbladder cancer develops when malignant (cancer) cells proliferate there.

There are four tissue layers covering the outside of your gallbladder:

  • Internal layer (mucosal layer).
  • The layer of muscles.
  • The layer of connective tissue.
  • The topmost layer (serosal layer).

The mucosal layer is where gallbladder cancer starts, and it spreads from there. After gallbladder removal, it is commonly found by chance or not identified until a late stage.

Symptoms of Gallbladder Cancer 

Early detection of this cancer is challenging due to the absence of visible signs and the similarity of the symptoms that do exist to those of other, less serious conditions. Furthermore, it is more challenging to locate the malignancy due to its placement within the gallbladder. The following  are the possible signs of gallbladder cancer :

  • Jaundice (yellowed skin and yellowed whites of your eyes).
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain above the stomach area
  • Bloating
  • Fever
  • Abdominal lumps
  • Unexplained weight loss

Stages of Gallbladder Cancer 

Whether or not cancer has spread (metastasized) beyond of its initial (primary) place is one of the major concerns. Your healthcare professional will give the diagnosis a number (zero through five) to represent the degree of spreading. The more the number increases, the more cancer has spread throughout your body. This procedure is staging. The gallbladder cancer progression phases are:

Stage 0 

(also known as carcinoma in situ) describes cancer that has only spread to the gallbladder’s mucosal layer.

Stage 1

Cancer has reached the layer of the muscles.

Stage 2

Cancer has moved from the layer of muscles to the layer of connective tissue.

Stage 3

The tumor has affected the liver, nearby organs, the outer layer (serosal), or possibly the lymph nodes.

Stage 4

More than three neighboring lymph nodes, nearby blood vessels, and/or distant organs have been affected by the malignancy.

Treatment Options for Gallbladder Cancer

An early detection before it has spread to other organs can help to treat gallbladder cancer better. The treatment depends on the stage of the cancer. The various treatment methods include:


A cholecystectomy is the surgical removal of your gallbladder and surrounding tissue. A portion of the liver next to the gallbladder, as well as lymph nodes nearby, may also be removed by the surgeon.


Drugs are used in chemotherapy to kill rapidly proliferating cells, especially cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be given orally, intravenously, or both ways through a vein in your arm.

If there is a chance that some gallbladder cancer cells may survive the operation, chemotherapy can be advised. In the event that surgery is not an option, it can also be used to control the malignancy.

Radiation treatment

High-powered energy beams, such as X-rays and protons, are used in radiation therapy to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy may occasionally be added if cancer could not be entirely removed during surgery for gallbladder cancer. If surgery is not an option, radiation therapy can potentially manage gallbladder cancer that is causing pain.

Targeted drug therapy

The targeted drug therapies concentrate on particular deficiencies in cancer cells. Targeted drug therapies can kill cancer cells by damaging these deficiencies. And so, for those with advanced gallbladder cancer, targeted drugs can be an option.


It is a drug therapy that supports your immune system’s ability to fight cancer. Cancer cells create proteins that make it difficult for immune system cells to recognize the cancer cells as dangerous, so your body’s immune system that fights disease may not attack cancer. Immunotherapy affects that process in order to work. It may be more helpful to treat advanced gallbladder cancer.

Chemotherapy in Gallbladder Cancer

When gallbladder cancer is in its early stages, chemotherapy is rarely in use. That is, when the cancer has not spread to other parts of the body. Neoadjuvant chemotherapy is chemotherapy before the surgery. Before doing surgery, doctors may use neoadjuvant chemotherapy to shrink the cancer. This can increase the chances of cure. Right now, there isn’t enough data to determine whether this is helpful. To find out, we need more clinical trials.

Adjuvant chemotherapy refers to treatment given after surgery. This is to stop the recurrence of gallbladder cancer. In a clinical experiment, the chemotherapy drug capecitabine reduced the likelihood that the gallbladder would recur after surgery. 

In order to try to reduce the cancer, slow it down, or ease any symptoms you may be experiencing if you have advanced gallbladder cancer, your doctor can recommend chemotherapy. A chemotherapy regimen containing both gemcitabine and cisplatin is common in this case. 

Possible side effects of Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy medications target rapidly dividing cells, which is why they are effective against cancer cells. However, other cells in the body, like those in the bone marrow, which produces new blood cells, the lining of the mouth and intestines, and hair follicles, also divide swiftly. Chemotherapy has the potential to exert an adverse effect on these cells. The type of chemotherapy, the dosage, and the duration of the medications used during chemotherapy can influence these side effects: 

  • Loss of appetite 
  • Hair loss
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

Most of these side effects usually stop once the treatment is complete. However, they can continue after the treatment as well. Moreover, there are various ways in which we can reduce or even prevent these side effects.


Chemotherapy is one among the many therapies that can help in the treatment of gallbladder. It can help in the case of gallbladder cancer as it can help to shrink the tumor, slow the growth of the same. However, the efficacy of chemotherapy on gallbladder cancer treatment can vary according to various factors such as the stage, patient history among others. 

Expert Guidance from Cancer Coach

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