Gallbladder cancer

Gallbladder cancer is a malignant disease of the gallbladder. If the cancer stems from the bile ducts, it is known as bile duct cancer. Gallbladder cancer and bile duct cancer occur predominantly after the age of 60. Women are affected more frequently than men. The main symptoms are jaundice due to a backlog of bile.

The gallbladder stores the bile produced by the liver and dispenses it to the intestine over the bile ducts.  Bile is important for digesting fat in the intestine. Gallbladder cancer often impairs the biliary drainage.  Around 300 people fall ill with gallbladder cancer or bile duct cancer in Switzerland every year. Women are affected slightly more frequently than men. The disease usually occurs in old age. The exact cause is unknown. Gallstones, gallbladder inflammation, smoking and excessive weight are deemed to be risk factors.

Gallbladder cancer or bile duct cancer often causes symptoms for the first time if the biliary drainage is impaired by the tumour. The resulting backlog of bile then leads to jaundice: the skin and eyes are discoloured yellow, the urine turns a dark colour, the stool is light in colour and there is a general itch all over the body. Nausea, vomiting or stomach pain can be further symptoms of gallbladder cancer.

Different examinations are carried out to diagnose gallbladder cancer; for example, blood tests, ultrasound of the liver and the gallbladder, and endoscopic gallbladder cystoscopy with removal of tissue samples. Find out more about gallbladder cystoscopy in the gallbladder surgery section.

The treatment of gallbladder cancer or bile duct cancer depends on the type of cancer and the stage of the disease. If the tumour has not spread too far, it will be surgically removed together with the gallbladder and also parts of the liver. Find out more in the gallbladder surgery section. If there are tumours which cannot be surgically removed in one piece, a small tube (stent) is inserted into the bile duct to enable the bile to flow out. Radiotherapy and chemotherapy are further treatment options to reduce the growth of gallbladder cancer. However, gallbladder cancer can usually only be cured with surgery if the tumours are in an early stage.