Whether doctors can cure gallbladder cancer depends on how far it has spread. If the cancer has spread beyond the gallbladder, treatments may not cure it, but they can prolong a person’s life and help manage their symptoms.

Gallbladder cancer is a rare but aggressive type of cancer. However, the disease is curable if doctors find it before it spreads to other parts of a person’s body. If it has spread, palliative treatment can help improve a person’s quality of life.

Most people receive a gallbladder cancer diagnosis when the disease is advanced. Only 20% of individuals with the disease receive an early stage diagnosis.

The survival rates for this type of cancer depend on the individual, the stage of the disease, and the type of treatment.

This article explains whether doctors can cure gallbladder cancer. It also discusses the different types of treatment, survival rates, and frequently asked questions about this type of cancer.

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Surgery is the only potentially curative treatment for early stage gallbladder cancer.

Surgery could cure gallbladder cancer if it has not spread beyond the organ or only to nearby tissue.

Doctors may recommend a cholecystectomy, or gallbladder removal, in people whose cancer has not spread outside the organ. Sometimes, the disease can spread to other tissues around the gallbladder. In these situations, surgeons may perform a radical cholecystectomy to remove the gallbladder and other affected tissues.

If the cancer has spread and surgeons cannot remove it, surgery may still help reduce symptoms and prolong a person’s life.

Aside from surgery, various treatment options are available for people with gallbladder cancer.

Chemotherapy is an option after gallbladder surgery removal to reduce the risk of further recurrence. It can also shrink tumors or slow their growth. While chemotherapy cannot cure cancer, the technique may help a person live longer.

Radiation therapy can help relieve symptoms in people with incurable advanced stage gallbladder cancer. Doctors may also use it following surgery to try and kill any remaining cancer cells.

Palliative therapy is an option when gallbladder cancer has spread to distant parts of the body. It can help control symptoms and improve a person’s quality of life.

Palliative treatments for gallbladder cancer may involve:

  • inserting a biliary stent, a tiny tube that doctors place in the bile duct to help drain bile
  • biliary bypass that helps overcome blockages in the gallbladder or bile duct
  • alcohol injection

There is ongoing research into new therapies for gallbladder cancer, including how to improve early diagnosis rates using imaging.

Researchers are also looking into combined therapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy to treat this disease.

The outlook for gallbladder cancer varies from person to person. Here are a few common questions and answers to learn more.

How long can you live after gallbladder cancer?

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), the overall 5-year survival rate for gallbladder cancer is 20%. This means people with this disease are, on average, about 20% as likely as those without gallbladder cancer to live for at least 5 years after diagnosis.

However, a person’s outlook may depend on various factors, including the cancer stage and whether surgery has cured it.

Many people with gallbladder cancer receive a diagnosis at an advanced stage, so the prognosis is generally unfavorable.

Does gallbladder cancer spread quickly?

Gallbladder can spread to nearby tissues, the lymph system, and the blood — doctors call this spread metastasis. The rate of gallbladder cancer spread can vary from person to person.

Doctors may be able to cure gallbladder cancer if they find it before it has spread and if the gallbladder is removable through surgery.

Most people receive a gallbladder cancer diagnosis when the disease has entered its advanced stages and has spread to other parts of the body. Because advanced cases are more difficult to cure, and diagnosis typically occurs when the disease reaches its late stage, gallbladder cancer has a high mortality rate.

In addition to surgery, doctors may also recommend other treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. They may help destroy remaining cancer cells after surgery or help treat symptoms in cases where surgery is not possible. These treatments may not cure the disease but can prolong a person’s life and help manage symptoms.