What is gallbladder cancer?

The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ in the body. It is about 3 to 4 inches long and sits just below the liver. The gallbladder stores bile that is produced by the liver. Bile is a substance that helps to digest fats in foods as they pass through the small intestine. Gallbladder cancer occurs when cells in the gallbladder begin to grow in an uncontrolled way.

Gallbladder cancer is cancer that starts in the gallbladder and can spread to other parts of the body. Most gallbladder cancers are adenocarcinomas. An adenocarcinoma is cancer that starts in cells that line many internal and external surfaces of the body. Other types of cancers that may develop in the gallbladder may include:

  • Papillary adenocarcinoma
  • Adenosquamous carcinomas
  • Squamous cell carcinomas
  • The American Cancer Society estimates that 11,740 new cases of gallbladder cancer are diagnosed every year. This form of cancer is not usually discovered until its advanced stages.

When to See a Doctor

If you have symptoms of gallbladder cancer, you should talk to your healthcare provider. Gallbladder cancer is not common. Symptoms of gallbladder cancer may be caused by another underlying medical condition.

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Symptoms and Causes


Gallbladder cancer may not cause symptoms in its early stages. As the cancer advances, you may notice the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain or swelling
  • Lumps in the belly
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Jaundice (a condition that occurs when the skin and white parts of the eyes turn yellow)


In many cases, the exact cause of gallbladder cancer is unknown. Researchers have identified risk factors that may increase your likelihood of developing gallbladder cancer. These risk factors include:

  • Gallstones
  • Gallbladder polyps (growths)
  • Porcelain gallbladder (a condition in which the wall of the gallbladder becomes covered with calcium deposits
  • Problems with the bile ducts
  • Obesity
  • Age

It is important to note that having a risk factor does not mean you will get gallbladder cancer. If you have concerns, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider.