Gallbladder Cancer


What is Gallbladder Cancer?

Gallbladder cancer is a rare form of cancer that makes up less than 1% of cancer cases diagnosed each year. At Mercy, we’re here to help find the best treatment plan for your needs. We have a team of cancer experts who are ready to answer questions, treat symptoms and provide support along the way.

Gallbladder cancer is a type of digestive cancer, as the gallbladder is part of the digestive system. Your gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ. It sits beneath your liver on the right side of your abdomen and stores a substance called bile that helps your body digest the fats in food. If cells within your gallbladder begin to grow abnormally, they can form a cancerous tumor. Most gallbladder cancer starts in the cells that line the inside of the gallbladder.

Types of Gallbladder Cancer

The most common types of gallbladder cancer are adenocarcinomas. There are other forms of gallbladder cancer such as squamous cell cancer or adenosquamous cancer, but these types are very rare.


Most gallbladder cancers are adenocarcinomas which are cancerous tumors that form in the gland cells inside the gallbladder. Adenocarcinomas make up 90% of gallbladder cancer cases.

Papillary Adenocarcinoma

A subtype of gallbladder cancer is papillary adenocarcinoma, which forms in the connective tissues of the gallbladder. This type of gallbladder cancer often has a more positive prognosis since papillary cancers are less likely to spread to other organs making them easier to treat.

Gallbladder Cancer Causes 

What causes gallbladder cancer is unknown, however, there are many factors that can cause chronic inflammation which is linked to a greater risk of gallbladder cancer.

Risk Factors

There are several conditions that increase the risk of gallbladder cancer. Risk factors include:

  • Gallstones - hardened bile can form in your gallbladder as gallstones and often requires surgery to treat
  • Porcelain gallbladder - this is an uncommon condition, usually caused by recurrent gallstones, where the gallbladder wall becomes delicate and brittle
  • Reflux - defects in the ducts connecting the pancreas to the digestive system can lead to reflux or the backwash of pancreatic fluids into the gallbladder’s bile ducts
  • Primary sclerosing cholangitis - this condition leads to inflammation and scarring of the gallbladder’s bile ducts
  • Choledochal cysts - these are cysts that form in the bile ducts and can become cancerous
  • Gallbladder polyps - polyps are growths along the wall of the gallbladder which aren’t always cancerous, though larger polyps are more likely to be cancerous
  • Gender - gallbladder cancer is more frequent in women than in men
  • Weight - obesity can increase the risk of many types of cancer, including gallbladder cancer
  • Age - the majority of people who develop gallbladder cancer are over age 65
  • Family history - genetic history of gallbladder cancer can increase your risk, though as this type of cancer is so rare, it's generally not related to family history

Symptoms of Gallbladder Cancer

Generally, gallbladder cancer symptoms are difficult to pinpoint until the disease has advanced however signs may appear sooner, in some cases. When gallbladder cancer is caught early, it’s highly treatable. Talk to your Mercy doctor right away if you have unusual abdominal pain or any of the symptoms listed below.

Gallbladder cancer signs and symptoms may include:

  • Jaundice, which causes yellowing of the skin and white part of the eyes along with darker urine and paler stools
  • Aching pain in the abdomen, often in the upper right side where the gallbladder is located
  • Sharp abdominal pain, which can mean that the bile duct is being blocked by a tumor or a gallstone
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Lumps on the right side of the stomach
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss

How Can Gallbladder Cancer Be Prevented?

There's no known way to prevent gallbladder cancer but there are some things you can do that can help lower your risk.

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Stay active
  • Eat a healthy diet (replace sugary foods with fruits and vegetables, avoid processed foods, and control meal sizes)
  • Keep regular check-ups with a Mercy primary care provider
Diagnosis & Treatment for Gallbladder Cancer

If you’re experiencing symptoms of gallbladder cancer, it can be overwhelming. Mercy is here to help you return to living your best life, and our team will provide you with the best care possible.

Learn about gallbladder cancer diagnostic tests & treatment options.

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