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Symptoms & Diagnosis

Wilmot Cancer Institute provides the full spectrum of gallbladder cancer care, from the initial diagnosis and treatment to recovery and rehabilitation.

We work in multidisciplinary teams. Multidisciplinary means that our care providers include experts with a variety of specialties: surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, nurse practitioners, social workers, and clinical researchers. They work together on your case to provide the most personalized care possible.

Gallbladder cancer symptoms

Getting an accurate diagnosis is essential to getting the best treatment. Gallbladder cancer is difficult to detect because it produces symptoms that are also present with less-serious conditions. In fact, gallbladder cancer is sometimes found when the organ is removed for other reasons. See a doctor if you're experiencing:

  • Pain, swelling or lumps in the belly, particularly in the upper right section
  • Yellowing of the whites of eyes or skin (jaundice)
  • Prolonged nausea or vomiting
  • Weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Fever

How is gallbladder cancer diagnosed?

Medical history and physical examination: This step includes a complete medical history and assessment of risk factors and symptoms. A doctor will also conduct a clinical exam to check for lumps, tenderness, or other signs of disease, paying special attention to the area around the gallbladder up to the collarbone.

Blood and lab tests: This involves collecting blood and running lab tests to check for bilirubin in the blood, which at high levels can indicate problems in the gallbladder or bile ducts. Lab tests can also show the function of liver, which can be abnormal in the presence of gallbladder disease. In addition, two blood proteins (CEA and CA 19-9) are often elevated with advanced-stage gall bladder cancer.

Imaging: Ultrasounds, CT scans, MRIs, and other imaging tests take detailed pictures of the gallbladder and surrounding area. An abdominal ultrasound is often the first test used in patients who have symptoms. An endoscopic ultrasound provides more precise views by attaching a transducer to a thin, lighted tube that passes through the mouth or through a small incision in the belly.

Cholangiography: This is a special type of imaging test that uses contrast dye and x-rays the liver and bile ducts to look for signs of blockages or narrowing of the ducts when gallbladder cancer occurs.

Angiography: Another special type of imaging test, this one looks at blood vessels to see if blood flow is blocked by a tumor.

Laparoscopy: This is a more involved procedure, done in an operating room, to examine the gallbladder, other nearby organs and lymph nodes, and take tissue samples. Laparoscopy is also used to remove the gallbladder or treat gallstones.

Biopsy: This involves removing cells or other tissue for further examination by a pathologist. But a biopsy is not always done before gallbladder surgery, due to concerns that disturbing the tissue could lead to spread of the cancer cells.