Gallbladder cancer surgery can be an effective treatment option for patients who have been diagnosed with tumors of the gallbladder. A small, pear-shaped organ in the abdominal cavity, the gallbladder stores bile, a fluid produced by the liver that aids digestion by breaking down fatty foods. If cancer is confined to the gallbladder, a surgical procedure called cholecystectomy may be performed to remove the organ and some surrounding healthy tissue. However, if the cancer has spread, an extended cholecystectomy may be recommended to remove the gallbladder, the surrounding lymph nodes and possibly some portions of the liver, bile duct and other nearby organs.
Because gallbladder cancer is relatively uncommon and often asymptomatic, the condition can be difficult to diagnose. Gallbladder cancer surgery may be considered if cancer is discovered in any of the following ways:
- After surgery for treating another gallbladder condition – Following the surgical removal of a patient’s gallbladder to address gallstones or chronic inflammation, tissue samples from the organ are usually evaluated by a pathologist under a microscope. If cancer is detected, additional tests may be ordered, such as MRI or CT scans and a staging laparoscopy. If the cancer is determined to be removable (resectable), further surgery may be required to remove portions of the liver, bile duct and surrounding lymph nodes.
- During surgery to address another gallbladder issue – If a surgeon suspects the presence of cancer while performing a cholecystectomy to treat painful gallstones or chronic gallbladder infection, the surgeon can obtain tissue samples for immediate evaluation. If necessary, the surgeon can then perform an extended cholecystectomy during the same surgical session.
- Through the results of imaging tests – CT or MRI scans may be ordered if a patient is experiencing jaundice, abdominal pain or swelling, fever, nausea or other symptoms of gallbladder cancer. If cancer is confirmed and determined to be removable, a cholecystectomy or extended cholecystectomy may be recommended.
If a tumor cannot be completely removed, a surgeon may perform gallbladder cancer surgery to remove a portion of the tumor to help address jaundice and other symptoms. For instance, if a nonremovable tumor is blocking the small intestine and causing bile to build up in the gallbladder, a surgical biliary bypass may be performed to create a new pathway for the bile to pass around the obstruction.
Certain types of gallbladder cancer surgery may also be performed with robotic assistance using the advanced da Vinci® Surgical System. At Moffitt Cancer Center, our surgical oncologists perform robot-assisted cholecystectomies and radical cholecystectomies.
Gallbladder cancer patients can receive world-class treatment at Moffitt Cancer Center, where we take a unique, multispecialty approach to ensure that each patient receives the benefit of several expert opinions. Prior to recommending gallbladder cancer surgery, our comprehensive tumor board thoroughly reviews all aspects of a patient’s case. Surgical candidates can have peace of mind in knowing that Moffitt’s experienced, fellowship-trained surgeons have helped thousands of patients fight cancer and live better-quality lives.