Treatments for unresectable gallbladder cancer

Unresectable means that the cancer cannot be completely removed with surgery. The following are treatment options for unresectable gallbladder cancer. Your healthcare team will suggest treatments based on your needs and work with you to develop a treatment plan.

When gallbladder cancer is widespread and cannot be removed with surgery, you may be offered the following options. These procedures make you feel better rather than treat the cancer. They relieve symptoms such as jaundice and pain.

Surgery

Surgery or other procedures that may be done include:

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

Find out more about surgery.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy may be offered to people with unresectable gallbladder cancer if they are well enough. This may include single chemotherapy drugs or combinations of drugs to try to slow the growth of the cancer.

Radiation therapy

External beam radiation therapy, with or without chemotherapy, may be offered to relieve pain and other symptoms.

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

If 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.