Gall Bladder/Bile Duct Cancer

The gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ under the liver that stores bile, a fluid needed for digestion. As the stomach and intestines digest food, the gallbladder releases bile through the bile duct, which connects the gallbladder and the liver to the small intestine.

Cancer can occur in the gallbladder and the bile duct. At UT Southwestern Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, our gastrointestinal cancer experts are experienced in treating both. If you are diagnosed with gallbladder cancer or bile duct cancer, you will be seen by a multidisciplinary team of specialists who will determine the most appropriate treatment for you.

Symptoms

Typically, gallbladder cancer and bile duct cancer cause few symptoms until they reach an advanced stage and have spread.

For bile duct cancer in particular, jaundice (when the skin and whites of the eyes become yellow, urine darkens, and stool color lightens) and itchy skin are often the first signs.

Other symptoms may include:

  • General feeling of poor health or weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Bloating
  • Swelling of the legs

Diagnosis

Gallbladder cancer is most often discovered during surgery to remove the gallbladder to treat gallstones or other conditions. Bile duct cancer is usually not diagnosed until a patient becomes jaundiced, but it may be found if a patient is tested for abnormal liver function. Occasionally, bile duct cancer will be identified on a computed tomography (CT) scan performed for another reason.

Blood tests, diagnostic imaging, biopsy, or a combination of these will likely be used to diagnose and stage gallbladder cancer or bile duct cancer.

Treatments

Depending on the stage of the cancer, treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy, biologic therapy, or radiation therapy.

If surgery is an option, it is the preferred treatment for gallbladder cancer and bile duct cancer. Our expert surgeons may perform a cholecystectomy, bile duct surgery, partial hepatectomy, or pancreas surgery, depending on the location of the tumor.

If surgery is not an option because of your overall health or because the cancer has spread, we offer minimally invasive, image-guided procedures to drain bile from the gallbladder or the bile duct. These procedures don’t cure the cancer, but they can provide symptom relief and allow you to receive other treatments that can extend and improve your life.

Our medical oncologists may prescribe chemotherapy to shrink a gallbladder tumor or bile duct tumor. For patients with cancers that cannot be removed, chemotherapy can be an important treatment to improve symptoms and extend life.

Radiation may be administered alone or in combination with chemotherapy or other treatments. Precise delivery of radiation by experienced radiation oncologists and technicians like those at UT Southwestern is especially important in gallbladder cancer and bile duct cancer because of the location of these structures. Our doctors have developed methods to more precisely deliver radiation to these difficult-to-treat areas.

Learn more about treatments for gastrointestinal cancers.

Clinical Trials

UT Southwestern offers clinical trials that may provide you with an opportunity to complement traditional therapy for gallbladder cancer or bile duct cancer with the newest, most promising treatment strategies. Talk with your doctor to determine if a clinical trial is right for you.

Meet the Team

See all of our gastrointestinal cancer specialists.

Request an Appointment

To schedule an appointment with a gastrointestinal cancer specialist, request an appointment or call 214-645-8300.