Gallbladder Cancer – Prognosis & Treatment Options | MedStar Health
A female patient talks with her doctor in a clinical setting.

Compassionate doctors experienced in treating rare GI cancers like gallbladder cancer

After a cancer diagnosis, you may feel overwhelmed with information. At MedStar Health, you won't have to navigate those decisions alone. Your caring team includes experts in several fields, all working together to help you get the right treatment for your unique case. We'll help you understand your specific case of gallbladder cancer and carefully explain the pros and cons of your treatment options. You can also expect us to support and encourage you through comprehensive services to help you and your loved ones navigate treatment and survivorship.

Bile ducts carry a liquid called bile, which is used to aid digestion from the liver, where it is made, to the intestine. The gallbladder is a place where bile is stored and is located between the liver and intestine. Although it's rare for cancer to develop in the gallbladder, it's important to seek care from the right team when you do. Our doctors are highly-specialized in treating GI cancers like this one, which means you can expect us to deliver the best possible outcomes while working to help you maintain the highest quality of life you can.

Symptoms and risk factors

Symptoms don't often appear until advanced stages.

You may not have any signs of cancer in early stages. However, if gallbladder cancer spreads to other organs or tissues, you may notice:

  • Jaundice, or yellowing of the whites of the eyes and skin)
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Lumps in the abdomen
  • Less appetite
  • Abnormal stool (pale or dark)

It's always a good idea to see a doctor if you experience any symptoms of gallbladder cancer. They'll help you get to the root cause or refer you to a specialist who can.

You may have an increased risk if you have a history of other gallbladder conditions.

We don't know for sure what causes this type of cancer, but there are a few things called "risk factors" that can elevate your chances. Gallbladder risk factors include:

  • Gender: This cancer develops more frequently in women.

  • Age: As you get older, your risk increases.

  • Weight: People who are overweight or obese have a greater risk.

  • Medical history: If you have or had gallstones, you have a higher risk than those who do not. You also have an increased risk if you've had other conditions affecting the gallbladder or bile ducts, including:

    • Polyps on the gallbladder
    • Chronic inflammation or infection
    • Primary sclerosing cholangitis (inflammation of the bile ducts)

Having risk factors doesn't mean you will develop this cancer, but it does mean you should talk to a doctor. They can help you understand your risk and determine whether you may benefit from preventative measures. At MedStar Health, we have a dedicated program for GI cancer prevention. These services help ensure that people with a high risk of these kinds of cancer are closely monitored so we can catch signs of cancer early when it's more easily treated.

Screening and prevention

There are no routine screening tests for this type of cancer.

Some cancers can be prevented through regular screening, like colon cancer. Unfortunately, because gallbladder cancer is uncommon, there isn't any screening test recommended for people who don't have symptoms. If you have signs of the disease, your primary care doctor may order one or several tests to determine what's causing your symptoms. That's why it's important to get to the doctor quickly if you notice anything abnormal. Timely tests can help detect this cancer early when survival rates are highest.

Although you can't prevent it, you can lower your risk of this and other cancers:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Exercising regularly
  • Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Limiting red meats, sugary beverages, and processed foods


When you have symptoms, we'll quickly determine the underlying cause.

If you or your doctor suspect gallbladder cancer, there are several tests and procedures that may be done, including:

  • Physical exam and medical history: Your doctor will look for signs of health concerns and ask you questions about your health history and symptoms.

  • Bloodwork: Several laboratory tests may be used to analyze your blood samples for certain chemicals and other substances. For example, your doctor may order tests to measure your liver and gallbladder function by checking the amount of bilirubin in your blood.

  • Imaging: Imaging tests allow doctors to view pictures of the inside of your body. This helps to spot areas that look suspicious. If cancer is confirmed, imaging can also help determine how far the cancer has spread. And it may be used regularly to see how well certain treatments are working. Different imaging tests used to diagnose or stage gallbladder cancer include:

  • Biopsy: A doctor may remove a piece of tissue for further examination under a microscope. Tissue may be removed using a fine needle, during an ERCP, or through a minimally invasive procedure called laparoscopy.

  • Laparoscopy: Your doctor may make a small incision in your abdomen through which they'll place a laparoscope (thin, lighted tube). This allows them to view the abdominal organs and see if cancer has spread. Sometimes tissue samples are removed and sent to pathology.

Types of cancer

Your prognosis and treatment options depend on whether it is discovered early or at a late stage.

Cancer of the gallbladder is typically grouped by how it will be treated, and those classifications are based on how advanced it is.

  • Early-stage gallbladder cancer: Surgical removal, or a cholecystectomy, is an option when it has not spread to other areas of the body. In some cases, if it has spread into the liver, your surgeon can remove affected portions of the liver and surrounding bile ducts during the cholecystectomy.

  • Late-stage (metastatic) gallbladder cancer: Surgery is not an option for cancer that has spread beyond the gallbladder to other parts of the body. Your doctor may prescribe radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or both to relieve your symptoms and make you as comfortable as possible.


You have a close-knit team in your corner, helping you receive coordinated and comprehensive treatment.

Most cases of gallbladder cancer are detected in later stages, making it harder to treat. However, our cancer experts have the experience and technology necessary for caring for all stages of this cancer. In weekly tumor boards, a team of world-class doctors will collaborate on an individualized treatment plan for you. To treat gallbladder cancer, we will consider the size, stage, and location of your cancer, as well as your goals, preferences, and other needs. Because of our partnership with the area's only comprehensive cancer center designated by the National Cancer Institute, Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, your care plan will involve the most advanced treatments available anywhere, possibly including breakthrough clinical trials.


Like bile duct cancer, surgery typically offers the best hope for a cure for this type of cancer. If cancer is isolated within the gallbladder, you may undergo a cholecystectomy. During this procedure, one of our highly-skilled surgeons will remove the gallbladder and a thin margin of surrounding healthy tissue to ensure no cancer is left behind.

If cancer has spread to other critical organs, like the liver, your surgeons may recommend a procedure that will remove the gallbladder and potentially parts of the liver, bile ducts, and other organs, as well as nearby lymph nodes. Or, if you are not a good candidate for surgical removal of your tumor, there may be other procedures we can perform to help minimize your symptoms and improve your comfort while you pursue other treatments.

Our board-certified and fellowship-trained surgeons are highly experienced in gallbladder surgery. Sometimes, we can perform these surgeries using minimally invasive techniques that speed recovery and reduce the risk of complications. Your care team will determine the right approach that will lead to your best outcomes.


Medical oncologists are trained to use drugs to treat cancer. When these drugs or drug combinations are used to attack cancer cells throughout the body, it's called chemotherapy. There are different ways chemotherapy may be used to treat this type of cancer. Sometimes, it's given before surgery to shrink a tumor. In other cases, it may be given after surgery to prevent recurrence. Some patients may receive chemotherapy as the only form of treatment to relieve symptoms when they cannot undergo surgery. Your care team will evaluate your needs and recommend the strategies that will work best for you while prioritizing your quality of life.

Immunotherapy and targeted therapy

Targeted therapies and immunotherapies are newer treatment options used to fight cancer cells. Targeted agents focus on exploiting certain weaknesses within particular cancer cells. Immunotherapy boosts your body's natural immune response towards cancer cells. There are several types of these drugs being studied in clinical trials, and these may be an option for treating late-stage gallbladder cancers, depending on eligibility criteria.

Radiation therapy

If you have advanced gallbladder cancer that can't be removed by surgery, your care team may recommend radiation therapy as your primary treatment. This type of treatment won't cure cancer, but it can help you live longer with an improved quality of life. Most commonly, our radiation oncologists recommend external beam radiation therapy to treat gallbladder cancer. This is delivered outside of the body using advanced technologies to help administer the therapy with extreme precision. We offer the latest radiation therapy systems, including the world's first proton therapy system using HYPERSCANTM. This allows us to limit the effects of radiation to healthy tissue and shorten the duration of treatment sessions. If this type of therapy is part of your treatment plan, your doctor will tailor the delivery method, dosage, and frequency that will be most effective for your specific case.

Looking for expert cancer care?

With multiple locations throughout the region, patients have access to many of the nation’s renowned cancer specialists offering high quality care, second opinions and a chance for better outcomes close to where they live and work. Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, one of the nation’s comprehensive cancer centers designated by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), serves as the research engine allowing patients access to clinical trials that often lead to breakthroughs in cancer care.

Our locations

Distance from Change locationEnter your location

MedStar Franklin Square Cancer Center at Loch Raven Campus

5601 Loch Raven Blvd.
Russell Morgan Building
First Floor
Baltimore, MD 21239

MedStar Georgetown Cancer Institute at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center

9103 Franklin Square Dr.
The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Cancer Institute
Suite 220
Baltimore, MD 21237

MedStar Georgetown Cancer Institute at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital

25500 Point Lookout Rd.
First Fl.
Leonardtown, MD 20650

Why choose us

Your multidisciplinary care team involves experts with unparalleled experience. Your treatment is discussed weekly in a multispecialty tumor board that involves experts in surgery, radiation oncology, medical oncology, radiology, pathology, gastroenterology, and more. These experts see more patients with GI cancer than any other center in the region, making them highly experienced and specialized in treating gallbladder cancer. This expertise translates to better outcomes and a higher quality of life for you.

We're at the forefront of cancer research, leading the way for GI cancer treatment and advocacy. Through a dedicated center at the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, our experts are global pioneers in GI cancer prevention and treatment. Our investigations are leading to better cancer care for our patients and others around the world. As a patient at MedStar Health, you gain access to clinical trials that may offer a personal benefit in treating your cancer or improving your quality of life.

We provide comprehensive support for you and your family every step of the way. In addition to your doctors, our nurse navigators offer guidance for patients and their families throughout the entire experience. They'll help you understand your options and serve as the gateway to a broad range of services and programs designed to care for your physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

Awards and recognition

Recipient of an Accreditation with Commendation, the highest level of approval, from the American College of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer (CoC)

Numerous surgeons, medical oncologists, and surgical oncologists recognized as "Top Doctors" by both Baltimore Magazine and the Washingtonian

Magnet® designation from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)

Clinical trials and research

Clinical trials

We're always exploring new ways to make gallbladder cancer treatment better than existing approaches. One of the ways we do this is through clinical trials, which offer patients access to new treatments before they've available to the general public. If your care team recommends a clinical trial, they'll talk to you about the pros and cons so you can understand what to expect.


Through The Ruesch Center for the Cure of Gastrointestinal Cancer, our clinicians and researchers are relentlessly pursuing the best diagnostic and treatment options for people with gallbladder cancer. We continue investigating ways to prevent it and treat it, and many trials underway are learning more about the role of immunotherapy, targeted therapy, and palliative care for patients with this type of cancer.

Support services

Supportive care is an important part of cancer treatment. We offer several programs and services to help patients and their loved ones navigate the physical and emotional challenges of cancer, along with any practical needs.

Genetic counseling

If you have a family history of this type of cancer, you may benefit from genetic counseling. Our board-certified genetic counselors offer virtual consultations to help patients and their families understand their risk of developing inherited cancers, including genetic testing, when appropriate. Armed with this information, patients can make informed decisions about preventative care and risk management.

Personalized rehabilitation

Each patient's recovery after cancer treatment looks different. Rehabilitation can help patients regain or maintain independence and control over their daily lives. Your rehabilitation treatment will be tailored to your goals and may involve specialists in physical therapy, occupational therapy, nutrition, pain management, social work, and others.


Even when cancer treatment is over, you may still benefit from our care. It's common for gallbladder cancer survivors to have pain or other side effects after treatment, like nausea or loss of appetite. Here, our specialists will help you and your family adjust to any lifestyle and diet changes. We'll also help address any other needs as they arise, such as stress and caregiver support.