Gallbladder cancer surgery involves removing the gallbladder. There are several different types of this surgery. In some circumstances, removing the gallbladder may cure a person’s cancer.

The gallbladder is a small organ under the liver. It stores and concentrates bile, which is a fluid the liver produces that helps break down fatty foods. While the gallbladder can help digest food, people can live without it.

Those with gallbladder cancer may have symptoms that include jaundice, pain, and fever. However, the disease can be hard to find and diagnose early.

This article discusses what surgery for gallbladder cancer involves, when people might need it, and its risks. It also discusses how individuals can prepare for gallbladder surgery, what to expect afterward, and if they need other treatments.

A medical professional is showing a person into a room.Share on Pinterest
Maskot/Getty Images

Surgery for gallbladder cancer is often complex. There are two main types of surgery for this condition: resectable surgery and unresectable surgery.

Resectable surgery

Surgeons perform resectable surgery if they believe they can completely remove the cancer. Doctors also call this procedure potentially curative surgery.

Resectable surgery involves removing a person’s gallbladder completely. Surgeons may also remove parts of other organs or lymph nodes next to the gallbladder.

Unresectable surgery

If a person’s gallbladder cancer is too advanced or has spread from their gallbladder, surgeons may perform unresectable surgery.

The aim of unresectable surgery is not to treat the cancer. Instead, surgeons aim to treat issues the individual’s cancer is causing. For example, they may put expandable tubes into the bile ducts that a tumor has blocked. This keeps the duct open and allows bile to flow.


There are numerous procedures that a surgeon may use to try to remove the cancer. These include:

  • laparoscopic cholecystectomy, or keyhole surgery, which involves using long surgical tools through a small cut
  • open cholecystectomy, where the surgeon removes the gallbladder through a large cut in the abdominal wall
  • extended or radial cholecystectomy, where the surgeon removes the gallbladder and parts or all of the other nearby organs

A person’s doctor can advise on the type of surgery they recommend and what people can expect.

Learn more about curing gallbladder cancer.

People have surgery for gallbladder cancer if doctors believe it will treat or cure their cancer. This is typically when the disease has not spread beyond the gallbladder or not far from it.

Individuals must also be healthy enough for the procedure. A doctor can advise on whether they feel someone is a suitable candidate for gallbladder cancer surgery.

A person can prepare for gallbladder cancer surgery by meeting with doctors before their procedure. Doctors may perform tests and checks on their health.

The doctor will also be able to provide advice on helping reduce the risk of issues after surgery. These measures may include quitting smoking beforehand, if applicable. They can also discuss any concerns or answer questions someone may have.

A person’s doctor can also advise on whether to stop taking medication or when to last eat before the procedure.

After surgery, people will need regular follow-up checks. During these appointments, the doctor will check for signs of the cancer returning and monitor for any complications of surgery.

There are typically no long-term side effects of gallbladder cancer surgery. However, a person may experience some temporary side effects, such as:

  • pain
  • swelling
  • bruising
  • bloating
  • flatulence
  • diarrhea

It is best to inform a doctor about any side effects so they can recommend suitable treatments or ways to manage them.

All surgeries carry some risks. The risks of gallbladder cancer surgery depend on:

  • the type of surgery, as keyhole surgery tends to have fewer risks than open surgery
  • how much tissue the surgeon removes
  • a person’s overall health before their surgery

Possible complications of gallbladder cancer surgery may include:

  • bile leaking into the abdomen
  • infections
  • liver failure
  • blood clots
  • damage to the ducts that carry bile from the liver

A doctor can monitor the individual for signs of complications and advise how to treat them.

Surgery is the main treatment for gallbladder cancer, as it offers the best likelihood of curing it.

Doctors may use other treatments in the following situations:

  • to stop the cancer from returning
  • to control symptoms
  • in cases where someone may not be a suitable candidate for surgery.

Other treatments for gallbladder cancer include:

Learn more about treatments for gallbladder cancer.

Here are some frequently asked questions about gallbladder cancer surgery.

Can gallbladder cancer be cured with surgery?

Surgery can cure gallbladder cancer, but only if surgeons remove the gallbladder before it spreads.

What is the recovery time for gallbladder cancer surgery?

A person’s recovery time for gallbladder cancer surgery depends on side effects and how extensive the cancer is. People may need about 2 weeks for recovery.

What is the surgical procedure for gallbladder cancer?

During surgery for gallbladder cancer, the surgeon will remove a person’s gallbladder using either keyhole or open surgery. Depending on if the cancer has spread, they may also remove other organs around it.

What is the success rate of gallbladder cancer surgery?

Scientists investigated the risk of cancer returning after gallbladder cancer surgery in a 2016 study. They examined 217 people who had curative surgery and found that the disease returned in 35% of cases. The median time for the cancer to return during these cases was 9.5 months.

The type of gallbladder cancer a surgeon performs depends on if the cancer has spread from the patient’s gallbladder.

If the cancer has not spread, surgeons will remove the whole gallbladder. This provides the best likelihood of curing the disease. If the cancer has spread, surgeons may only be able to help control or reduce the symptoms of the disease.

People may need other treatments for gallbladder cancer after or instead of surgery. Doctors will perform follow-up checks after surgery to see if the disease returns and monitor for complications.