Gallbladder Cancer: Surgery

Woman wearing hospital gown speaking to healthcare provider.

Surgery is a common way to treat gallbladder cancer. The surgery may be either of these: 

  • Potentially curative surgery. If surgery can remove all of the cancer, the cancer is called resectable. The surgery removes the gallbladder, and nearby tissues if needed. This kind of surgery is called potentially curative.

  • Palliative surgery. Palliative care is treatment that’s done to ease symptoms such as pain or to help prevent complications. If the cancer has spread too far to be fully removed, the cancer is called unresectable. Then palliative surgery may be done.

Gallbladder surgery can have major side effects. Talk with your healthcare provider about what the goal of surgery is, what the risks are, how long it may take to recover, and what you can expect to feel like after surgery.

What to expect for surgery

Surgery to take out the gallbladder is called a cholecystectomy. A simple cholecystectomy is when just the gallbladder is removed. This is done when the cancer is only in the gallbladder. Some people need a more extensive surgery. An extended or radical cholecystectomy also removes tissues near the gallbladder, including: 

  • Part of the liver around the gallbladder

  • Other nearby organs or tissues, such as the common bile duct

  • Lymph nodes in the area 

How palliative surgery helps 

Even if your cancer can’t be removed completely, palliative surgery may help ease your symptoms. In some cases, cancer tissue can block the bile ducts so that bile builds up in the liver and gallbladder. Surgery can be done to relieve the blockage. A surgeon may do a biliary bypass to join parts of the gallbladder or nearby organs to create a new way for bile to flow. Surgery can also be done to put in a tube called a catheter or a stent. These are types of tubes that can drain bile that has built up. The catheter may drain bile to the outside of your body. Or it may drain bile into your small intestine. A stent is a metal or plastic tube that's put into the blocked duct to allow bile to drain through it. 

After gallbladder cancer surgery 

Depending on the type of surgery you have, you will most likely have some pain around your surgical cuts (incisions) for a few days or so. You can talk with your healthcare providers about pain medicine.

You will also feel tired or weak after surgery. If you had extensive surgery that affected organs around the gallbladder, you may have eating problems for some time after surgery. Your surgeon will talk with you about when you can start to eat and what foods are safe. How long it takes to recover is different for each person. You may have to stay in the hospital for a while. Be sure to talk with your healthcare provider about all your questions and concerns.

Online Medical Reviewer: Levy, Adam S, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Stump-Sutliff, Kim, RN, MSN, AOCNS
Date Last Reviewed: 10/1/2017
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