Treatments for recurrent gallbladder cancer

Recurrent gallbladder cancer means that the cancer has come back after it has been treated. The following are treatment options for recurrent gallbladder cancer. Your healthcare team will suggest treatments based on your needs and work with you to develop a treatment plan.

Treatment for recurrent gallbladder cancer depends on:

  • the types of cancer treatment given before
  • where the cancer comes back
  • your overall health

If possible, the recurrent gallbladder cancer is completely removed with surgery (this means it is resectable). But usually, recurrent gallbladder cancer cannot be removed with surgery (it is unresectable). In that case, treatment is usually given to relieve symptoms caused by the cancer and to make you more comfortable.


Surgery or other procedures that may be done to relieve symptoms include:

  • inserting a small tube (stent) to keep the bile duct open
  • inserting a tube (catheter) to drain bile
  • creating a different drainage flow for bile around a blockage (a biliary bypass)

Find out more about surgery.


Chemotherapy may be offered to people with recurrent gallbladder cancer who are well enough to cope with the side effects of treatment. The types of chemotherapy drugs that may be used depend on whether chemotherapy was used to treat the cancer the first time. One or a combination of chemotherapy drugs may be used.

Radiation therapy

External beam radiation therapy may be offered for recurrent gallbladder cancer to relieve pain and other symptoms. Radiation therapy may not be an option if the cancer comes back in the same area and you have been treated with radiation before. This is because the tissues can only cope with a certain amount of radiation therapy.

If you can’t have or don’t want cancer treatment

You may want to consider a type of care to make you feel better without treating the cancer itself. This may be because the cancer treatments don’t work anymore, they’re not likely to improve your condition or they may cause side effects that are hard to cope with. There may also be other reasons why you can’t have or don’t want cancer treatment.

Talk to your healthcare team. They can help you choose care and treatment for advanced cancer.

Clinical trials

A few clinical trials in Canada are open to people with gallbladder cancer. Clinical trials look at new and better ways to prevent, find and treat cancer. Find out more about clinical trials.

Expert review and references

  • Lillemoe, K. D., Schulick, R. D., Kennedy, A. S., et al . Cancers of the Biliary Tree: Clinical Management. Kelsen, D. P., Daly, J. M., Kern, S. E., Levin, B., Tepper, J. E., & Van Cutsem, E. (eds.). Principles and Practice of Gastrointestinal Oncology. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2008: 37:493-510.
  • Patel,T. and Borad, M.J. . Cancer of the biliary tree. DeVita VT Jr, Lawrence TS, & Rosenberg SA. Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 10th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2015: 53:715-733.
  • Siegel, A.B., Sheynzon,V., and Samstein, B. . Uncommon Hepatobiliary tumors. Raghavan, E., Blanke, C.D., Johnson, D. H., et al. (Eds.). Textbook of Uncommon Cancer. 4th ed. Chichester, England: John Wiley & Sons; 2012: 31:441-452.