If you have gallbladder or bile duct cancer, we’re here to support you every step of the way. Together, we’ll find the right treatment for your cancer — and for you.

Gallbladder and bile duct cancers are rare. Because they don’t usually cause symptoms, they’re often diagnosed in later stages. Physicians typically find these cancers after removing the gallbladder or checking for gallstones.

Baptist Health Miami Cancer Institute’s gastrointestinal cancer specialists combine medical expertise and compassionate care. We use the latest technologies to diagnose and treat your specific type of cancer.

Your personalized treatment plan will support your overall well-being. Services such as nutritional advice, physical rehabilitation and pain management address your whole journey as a patient.

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What are gallbladder and bile duct cancers?

Gallbladder and bile duct cancers occur when cancer cells develop in the tissue of the gallbladder or bile ducts. Most gallbladder and bile duct cancers are aggressive and can spread quickly.

The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ in the upper abdomen. It stores bile, a fluid produced by the liver that is used to digest fat. The gallbladder releases bile into vessels called bile ducts, which carry the bile into the small intestine, helping you to digest food.

Gallbladder and bile duct cancers usually do not cause symptoms until the later stages. When symptoms appear, they can include:

  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Bloating
  • Dark urine
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Itchy skin
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
  • Lump in the abdomen
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Night sweats
  • Weight loss
  • White-colored stool

Gallbladder and bile duct cancers are most often diagnosed in more advanced stages, so five-year survival rates are lower than most cancers. The five-year survival rate for gallbladder cancer that has not spread is 66 percent. It is 10 percent to 15 percent for bile duct cancer that has not spread.

Medical illustration of anatomy of gallbladder and ducts.

Types of Gallbladder and Bile Duct Cancer

Most gallbladder and bile duct cancers are adenocarcinomas. This type of cancer forms in the mucus glands of the gallbladder and bile ducts.

Most bile duct tumors form outside the liver (extrahepatic bile duct cancer). About one-third of bile duct tumors form inside the bile duct branches inside the liver (intrahepatic bile duct cancer). Bile duct tumors are also called cholangiocarcinomas.

There are several other forms of gallbladder cancer, but they are very rare. They include:

Gallbladder and Bile Duct Cancer Risk Factors

Women are twice as likely as men to develop gallbladder cancer. Native Americans and Mexican Americans also have a higher risk of developing gallbladder cancer.

Other risk factors for gallbladder cancer include the following:

  • Being over the age of 70
  • Having gallstones
  • Having small growths (polyps) on the gallbladder wall
  • Using tobacco, especially smoking
  • Having a family history of gallbladder cancer
  • Being obese
  • Getting frequent salmonella infections
  • Having a condition called porcelain gallbladder (when the gallbladder is covered in calcium deposits)

Bile duct cancer is more likely to affect people who suffer from chronic inflammation in the bile ducts. Inflammation is often caused by small stones (similar to gallstones) that form in the bile ducts.

Other risk factors for bile duct cancer include:

  • Having a history of ulcerative colitis
  • Having congenital bile duct cysts (choledochal cysts)
  • Being exposed to biliary parasites
  • Having chronic hepatitis C
  • Using tobacco, especially smoking
  • Having diabetes

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Preventing Gallbladder and Bile Duct Cancer

You can’t change most risk factors for gallbladder and bile duct cancer, like your age, gender and ethnicity. If you have chronic gallstones or porcelain gallbladder, your physician may recommend removing your gallbladder to prevent cancer.

You can lower your risk for developing cancer by:

  • Not using tobacco. Speak with your doctor if you need help quitting.
  • Exercising regularly.
  • Eating a healthy diet. Aim for plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy. Talk with your doctor or a nutritionist about what you should include in a healthy diet.
  • Keeping a healthy weight. Ask your doctor what a healthy weight is for you.
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