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Bile Duct and Gallbladder Cancer

Located in the liver, the gallbladder is a small organ on the upper right side of the abdomen that stores bile secreted by the liver. Bile ducts connect your liver to your gallbladder and to your small intestine. When fat is consumed, the gallbladder contracts to send bile into the intestines through the bile duct to aid digestions. Most gallbladder and bile duct cancers develop in the mucus glands that line the gallbladder and bile duct, and these cancers are rare. Women are more likely to develop gallbladder cancer than men, as are the elderly. People who have had gallstones have a slightly increased risk as well.

Gallstones are hard, pebble like pieces of solid material that form in your gallbladder. This is called cholelithiasis. Stones are formed when there is a high amount of cholesterol known as bilirubin in the bile along with other substances. Gallstones can be formed in various sizes, from small to large. When a gallstone blocks a bile duct, there can be pain that may need treatment right away.

There are three types of bile duct cancer or cholangiocarcinoma, each based on where in the bile duct they occur: intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma, hilar cholangiocarcinoma and distal cholangiocarcinoma.

Common Symptoms

Bile duct and gallbladder cancer have few symptoms until they have spread to other organs/tissue.

When symptoms do occur, they include:

  • Jaundice
  • Dark urine
  • Lighter than normal stool
  • Itchy skin
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Bloating
  • Fatigue/weakness
  • Leg swelling
  • Fever that doesn’t go away

Treatment Options

Treatment for these cancers depends on your general health, what type and where the tumor is, as well as what stage it’s in. The main treatment for gallbladder and bile duct cancers is surgery, as this is the only possible way to cure the disease. As many cases are advanced before they are diagnosed, your doctor should discuss with you how likely and to what extent the surgery might help you.

Radiation therapy and chemotherapy may be used after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells.

Previous Page Last Review Date: June 9, 2020
Bile Duct and Gallbladder Cancer Team
Adrian Legaspi, MD, FACS

Adrian Legaspi, MD, FACS

Oncology Surgery
Hialeah 33016
Amit Vinay Sastry, MD

Amit Vinay Sastry, MD

Oncology Surgery
Hialeah 33016
Vanitha Vasudevan, MD, FACS

Vanitha Vasudevan, MD, FACS

General Surgery, Oncology Surgery
Hialeah 33016