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Research into gallbladder cancer

Find out about the latest UK research looking at gallbladder cancer.

Tests of treatments on patients are called clinical trials. Cancer Research UK supports many UK and international clinical trials. The video shows what it is like to take part in a trial.

Research into new tests

Doctors use various tests to diagnose gallbladder cancer. A new test is being researched that may help doctors be sure of the diagnosis. It is called the Mcm5 protein test, and the Mcm stands for minichromosome maintenance protein. A trial is looking at the Mcm5 protein test. It will find out how accurate and reliable this test is and how good it might be at helping to diagnose cancer. 

One study is looking at a type of test called SPECT CT to help diagnose liver tumours, gallbladder cancers and bile duct cancers. The test is a combination of a CT scan and a SPECT scan. It uses a radioactive tracer which is taken up by liver cancer cells.  Doctors want to know whether the SPECT CT scan is better than the scans they already use. This study has now closed and we are waiting for the results.

Combined treatment

We know that the best way to treat gallbladder cancer that can be removed is surgery. If your cancer has grown too far to be removed with surgery, or if it has come back, your specialist may suggest treatment with chemotherapy and radiotherapy (chemoradiation).

Radiotherapy can help to control gallbladder cancer to some extent, but not as much as doctors would like. Researchers have been trying to improve results by using radiotherapy and chemotherapy together.

Trials have looked into using combined chemotherapy and radiotherapy before or after surgery. This is still experimental and if your specialist suggests this, it should be as part of a clinical trial.

The aim of the treatment is to lower the risk of the cancer coming back. Doctors have hoped that combined treatment before surgery could shrink an inoperable tumour and make it possible to remove.

This sort of combined treatment can have quite severe side effects and we still don’t know if the increase in side effects is outweighed by any extra benefit in stopping the cancer coming back.

We are not aware of any UK trials into combined chemoradiation before or after surgery for gallbladder cancer that are open at the moment.

Chemotherapy drugs

In the past, research trials found that the combination of gemcitabine and cisplatin chemotherapy worked better than gemcitabine alone for advanced gallbladder cancer. The combination is now often used. 

Trials are comparing other chemotherapy drugs and also seeing if having chemotherapy after surgery delays or stops the cancer coming back.

Photodynamic therapy

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is used to relieve symptoms, such as jaundice for gallbladder cancer.

Some small studies have used PDT alone compared with PDT with a stent in place. The results have been promising for PDT alone. This treatment is to help relieve symptoms, not to try to cure cancer of the gallbladder.

The PHOTOSTENT - 02 trial is looking into photodynamic therapy (PDT) to treat symptoms of gallbladder cancer that can't be removed with surgery. It is comparing PDT with a stent, to using a stent on its own.

This trial has now closed. We are waiting for the results.

Reducing side effects of treatment

The ACUFOCIN trial is looking at whether acupuncture can reduce the nerve damage that chemotherapy treatment can cause for some people.

Quality of life

It is important to research how symptoms of gallbladder and bile duct cancer and side effects of treatment affect people's quality of life.

There is a study to test a quality of life questionnaire for people who have gallbladder or bile duct cancer. The aim is to see if this questionnaire is more helpful than a general quality of life questionnaire.

This trial has now closed and we are waiting for the results.

Finding a trial

If you are interested in taking part in a clinical trial, ask your specialist if there are any suitable current studies. Unfortunately, there are not many trials for gallbladder cancer (or biliary tract cancer) treatment in the UK as it is not a common cancer in this country. Most of the research takes place in countries where gallbladder cancer is more common.

It can take longer to recruit enough patients for research studies than with a more common cancer. The studies are likely to be smaller, which means there must be a more marked difference between treatments for it to show up.

Information and help

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