Symptoms of gallbladder cancer vary and can also mimic other conditions. People may not notice any symptoms of gallbladder symptoms in the initial stages.

The gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ in the upper abdomen under the liver. It stores bile, which is a yellowish-green liquid that the liver makes and releases into the small intestine.

The gallbladder receives and stores bile in its two lobes, connected by a small tube called the cystic duct.

The gallbladder consists of many different types of cells and can develop many types of cancer, including:

This article looks at the symptoms of gallbladder cancer. It also discusses how doctors diagnose the condition and when a person should contact a doctor.

Learn more about gallbladder cancer here.

A blood sample to test for gallbladder cancer.Share on Pinterest
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It is important to remember that gallbladder cancer is rare, and the following symptoms are more likely to occur due to other conditions, such as gallstones and hepatitis.

A person may not experience any symptoms of gallbladder cancer in the early stages. However, sometimes, symptoms may appear earlier, which can help lead to an early diagnosis.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) notes that one of the main symptoms of gallbladder cancer is persistent pain in the abdomen. This may present as tenderness or sharp pain and typically occurs on the right side of the upper abdomen.

Lss common symptoms may include:

Learn more about other causes of abdominal pain here.

Advanced symptoms

If the cancer spreads to surrounding structures and other parts of the body, a person may experience more symptoms. These may include:

  • weight loss
  • jaundice, which is the yellowing of the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes
  • itching as a result of jaundice
  • tenderness in the upper right side of the abdomen
  • enlarged liver
  • ascites, which is the swelling of the abdomen that develops due to a buildup of fluid
  • abdominal swelling as a result of the tumor or buildup of bile

Learn about other causes of pain in the upper stomach here.

The ACS states that early detection of gallbladder cancer often occurs when a healthcare professional performs surgery to remove gallstones.

After examining the gallbladder under a microscope, they may detect small cancers or pre-cancers that did not cause symptoms.

Learn more about gallstone surgery here.

Is gallbladder cancer visible on an ultrasound?

An ultrasound is typically one of the first tests a doctor recommends for someone with jaundice or pain in their abdomen. This imaging test can allow healthcare professionals to identify if there is a mass in the abdomen. They can also use ultrasound to guide the tools needed to take a biopsy.

Learn how ultrasounds work here.

Blood tests

Doctors may check for bilirubin levels, which is the chemical that results in jaundice. They may also test for:

  • albumin
  • liver enzymes
  • tumor markers, which are substances cancer cells make

The tumor markers for gallbladder cancer are called CEA and CA 19-9. These tumor markers are usually high if the cancer is advanced.

Learn more about high levels of bilirubin here.

Imaging tests

A doctor may order the following imaging tests:

  • abdominal, endoscopic, or laparoscopic ultrasound
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • cholangiography, which is an imaging test that looks at the bile ducts
  • angiography, which is an X-ray that looks at the blood vessels

Learn what may cause blockage of the bile ducts.

Other tests

To help diagnose gallbladder cancer, a doctor may also order a laparoscopy. This involves inserting a thin tube with a light and camera on the end into a small cut on a person’s abdomen.

They may also perform a biopsy to determine if a lump is cancerous or not. A surgeon may perform this as part of another procedure or by itself. A biopsy involves removing a small amount of tissue from the body and examining it to look for cancer cells.

Learn all about biopsies here.

If people experience any of the following signs and symptoms of gallbladder cancer, they should contact a doctor or another healthcare professional as soon as possible:

  • vomiting for longer than 2 days
  • pain in the upper abdomen that lasts longer than 2 days
  • a painless lump in the upper abdomen that does not go away after 2 weeks
  • loss of appetite, unexplained weight loss, nausea, vomiting, or constipation lasting 2 weeks
  • yellowing of the skin and eyes

Learn more about gallbladder pain here.

The type of gallbladder cancer that a person is diagnosed with will influence their outlook. Because gallbladder cancer does not typically cause distinct symptoms, people may not receive a diagnosis until the later stages.

The most recent available 5-year survival rate for different stages of gallbladder cancer was based on people diagnosed with gallbladder cancer between 2011–2017.

According to the ACS, the rates are:

Stage5-year relative survival rate
Local, which means that there are signs that the cancer has spread.66%
Regional, which means that the cancer has spread nearby to the lymph nodes or other structures close to the gallbladder.28%
Distant, which means that the cancer has spread further through the body.2%

A person’s outlook depends on when they receive their diagnosis, whether the cancer is new or recurrent, and whether it is possible to remove the cancer with surgery.

Learn more about the stages of cancer here.

Gallbladder cancer is not as common as other types of cancers. However, it is still important to know the symptoms and what to do if a person notices them.

Symptoms may not appear in the early stages of the disease. However, a person may experience persistent pain in the abdomen, jaundice, nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, and appetite loss, among other symptoms.

The symptoms of gallbladder cancer are often similar to other illnesses and conditions that affect the liver or digestive system, so it is important to see a doctor for a diagnosis.