Although gallbladder cancer can be asymptomatic, some people may experience abdominal pain. Doctors may treat gallbladder cancer pain with over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers.

Gallbladder cancer is rare and usually starts in the gland-like cells in the lining of the organ.

Symptoms typically occur during more advanced stages of the cancer. Most people with gallbladder cancer will experience abdominal pain.

This article looks at the symptoms of gallbladder cancer, what pain from gallbladder cancer feels like, the treatment and outlook for the cancer, and how to get support for pain and other symptoms.

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According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), most people with gallbladder cancer do not experience symptoms during the early stages of the disease.

However, abdominal pain is one of the most common symptoms of gallbladder cancer as the condition progresses.

A 2019 study found that, from a sample size of 62 people with a recent gallbladder cancer diagnosis, 92% experienced pain as a symptom.

Other common symptoms that may occur in the later stages of gallbladder cancer include:

Gallbladder cancer is rare and shares symptoms with other conditions, such as cholecystitis, which is inflammation of the gallbladder. Speaking with a doctor can help people learn the cause of the above symptoms.

Gallbladder cancer may cause pain in the upper right area of the belly. According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), this may be an aching, dragging feeling.

The pain may also feel sharp if gallstones or cancer block a person’s bile ducts.

The duration and frequency of the pain can vary and may be intermittent or persistent.

Does pain get worse as gallbladder cancer progresses?

Although pain is a common symptom of gallbladder cancer, people do not usually experience it until the cancer progresses to advanced stages.

Pain may occur due to the growth of cancer cells stretching the liver and other organs. If the cancer grows large enough, it may block the bile duct of the gallbladder, which can cause further pain.

The ACS emphasizes that gallbladder cancer is rare, with vague symptoms that can indicate other conditions. If a person does not have a gallbladder cancer diagnosis, abdominal pain can indicate a different condition, including:

Learn more about potential causes of stomach pain.

In the early stages, doctors aim to treat gallbladder cancer by removing it surgically. However, when this is not possible, treatment may become palliative to manage symptoms and improve the person’s quality of life.

According to the ACS, palliative treatment for gallbladder cancer pain may include the following:

  • pain medication
  • draining bile ducts
  • stents to open blocked bile ducts
  • alcohol injections
  • radiation therapy
  • chemotherapy
  • palliative surgery, such as a biliary bypass, which helps to drain bile

Doctors may also suggest clinical trials with new treatments, such as hyperthermia therapy or immunotherapy.

The outlook for gallbladder cancer can depend on factors such as its type and stage. Pain and other symptoms typically occur as gallbladder cancer progresses, not in the early stages.

According to the ACS, the 5-year relative survival rates are:

  • 69% for localized gallbladder cancer that has not spread beyond the gallbladder
  • 28% for regional gallbladder cancer that has spread to nearby lymph nodes or structures
  • 3% for distant gallbladder cancer that has spread to distant areas of the body

These statistics use data from other people with gallbladder cancer to estimate a person’s chance of surviving for 5 years after their diagnosis.

The following resources may help people cope with gallbladder cancer and symptoms such as pain:

  • Cancer Survivors Network is a peer support community that helps connect people who have cancer, families, friends, caregivers, and survivors.
  • CaringBridge is a free online tool that allows people to create personal pages to stay in touch and share their journeys with their support network.
  • The National Cancer Institute offers a free online tool to help people find support and resource services near them, an online chat service, and a helpline, which people can call at 800-422-6237.

A person can discuss support services with their doctor or team of healthcare professionals, who may be able to suggest other helpful resources and local support groups.

Gallbladder cancer may not cause symptoms in the early stages of the disease. However, pain is a common symptom of gallbladder cancer during the advanced stages.

Pain from gallbladder cancer may be an aching, dragging sensation in the upper right belly. Some people also describe it as feeling sharp. The pain can vary in intensity and duration.

Doctors may treat pain from gallbladder cancer with medication, procedures to block the pain or reroute the flow of bile from the organ, or with palliative chemotherapy.