Symptoms and diagnosis of gall bladder cancer

Symptoms

Gallbladder cancer often has no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. Some gallbladder cancers are found by chance. The symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain, especially in your right-hand side
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea (feeling sick)
  • Itchy skin
  • Fever (high temperature)
  • Jaundice (yellowing of your eyes and skin)
  • Dark yellow urine
  • Pale stools

These symptoms can also be caused by conditions other than cancer. But do report them to your GP. For more information, contact the National Cancer Helpline on 1800 200 700 to speak to one of our specialist cancer nurses.

Screening

Testing for gallbladder cancer when you have no symptoms is called screening. There is no national gallbladder cancer screening programme in Ireland at present. If you are concerned about gallbladder cancer, talk to your GP.

Diagnosis

First, visit your family doctor (GP) if you are worried about any symptoms. If your doctor has concerns about you, he or she will refer you to a hospital. There you will see a specialist who may arrange more tests. You may need some of the following tests:

  • ERCP
  • Laparoscopy
  • Laparotomy

ERCP

ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography): This is a special type of X-ray that looks at your gallbladder and bile ducts. Your doctor will pass a thin, flexible tube through your mouth and into your stomach and bowel. Here they can look at your bile duct and check for any abnormal changes. They can also inject dye into the duct and check for blockages on the X-ray.

Laparoscopy

This test is done under general anaesthetic. Your doctor will make a small cut in your tummy (abdomen) and put in a small, thin flexible tube with a camera attached to it. The lets your doctor look for any abnormal changes in your gallbladder and other organs, such as your liver. A sample of cells (biopsy) can be taken at this time. You will have some stitches in your tummy after the test.
During a laparoscopy, carbon dioxide gas is passed into your abdomen to let your doctor see more clearly. This can cause cramps in your tummy and pains in your shoulder for several days. The pain normally eases if you take short walks or sip peppermint water.

Laparotomy

A laparotomy is like a laparoscopy. This time your doctor makes a larger cut in your tummy and does not use a camera. Again, this lets your doctor check for abnormal changes. A laparotomy can sometimes lead to more surgery, depending on what your doctor finds. For example, removing your gallbladder.

Other tests:

  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • Ultrasound scan
  • Blood tests
  • Tests on the blood supply to your gallbladder (angiography)

The scans can help to stage the cancer. This means finding out the size of the cancer and if it has spread anywhere else. This can help your doctor to decide on the right treatment for you.See ‘How is cancer diagnosed?’ for more information on these tests.

Learn more about the above tests

Call our National Cancer Helpline

Freephone 1800 200 700 to talk to a specialist cancer nurse
It's open Monday-Thursday from 9am to 7pm and Friday from 9am to 5pm