Drug treatment for advanced gallbladder cancer
This page tells you about drug treatment for advanced gallbladder cancer.
Drug treatment for advanced gallbladder cancer usually means chemotherapy. But there are other drugs you might have.
Chemotherapy may help treat your symptoms by shrinking the cancer. This can help to relieve pain or a partially blocked bowel causing sickness. A number of chemotherapy drugs have been used in trials for gallbladder cancer.
Relieving a blockage
Your doctor may suggest a drainage tube called a stent for a blockage, either to partially clear it or bypass it. If you have a blocked bowel, a drug may help to control the symptoms, instead of surgery.
Controlling pain and sickness
The commonest cancer symptoms are pain and sickness. Both of these can be kept well under control with drug treatment. Steroids may also help you feel better and increase your appetite. Or you may have them to help control sickness, particularly when caused by chemotherapy.
Experimental drug treatment
There are a few experimental treatments being investigated for cancer of the gallbladder. Much of this is in the very early stages. Only people with advanced cancer who have tried all other treatment are included in the first phase of clinical testing.
View a summary of treating advanced gallbladder cancer.
Your doctor may suggest chemotherapy to help treat your symptoms by shrinking the cancer. This can help to relieve pain or a partially blocked bowel that is causing sickness. A number of chemotherapy drugs have been used in trials for gallbladder cancer. A combination of gemcitabine and cisplatin chemotherapy is now often used for advanced gallbladder cancer.
There is more about these drugs and their side effects in the section about chemotherapy for gallbladder cancer.
The type of treatment you need will depend on where the blockage is.
Your doctor may suggest putting a drainage tube called a stent into the bile system to let bile flow through into the bowel again. Or your doctor may suggest surgery to partially clear or bypass the blockage.
If you have a blocked bowel, it may be possible to control the symptoms using a drug called somatostatin (octreotide) instead of having an operation. Somatostatin is a hormone made naturally by the body. It can now be made artificially. It works by reducing the amount of fluid that builds up in your stomach and digestive system. This helps to stop you being sick and can relieve the bloating you feel.
You often have somatostatin with steroids. These help to reduce swelling that makes the blockage worse. Unfortunately this type of treatment only works for a limited time.
Medicines are a common way of controlling cancer symptoms. The commonest cancer symptoms are pain and sickness. Both of these can be kept well under control with drug treatment.
You may have pain with advanced gallbladder cancer, so you may need to take painkillers drugs to control it. Many people will be pain free with the right type and dose of painkillers. At the very least, you should not be in pain when you are resting. Pain when you are moving around is more difficult to get rid of altogether, but this can often be done. There is more about types of painkillers in our coping physically section.
Controlling sickness depends on what is causing it. There are many different anti sickness drugs and your doctor will choose the one that is most likely to deal with the cause of your sickness. If your sickness is caused by a blockage in your digestive system, you may need treatment to relieve the blockage. Or some way of draining the fluid that is collecting above the blockage. Your doctor may suggest surgery or a stent. Or a tube down your nose and into your stomach (a nasogastric tube) to allow the fluid to drain off into a bag and stop you being sick.
We have a whole section on controlling sickness in our coping physically section. This gives the different causes of sickness and how they are treated, including a section on treating sickness caused by a blockage.
Your doctor may suggest that you take steroids to help you feel better and boost your appetite. Or you may have them to help control sickness, particularly if it is caused by chemotherapy.
There are a few experimental treatments being researched for cancer of the gallbladder. Much of this is in the very early stages, often phase 1 trials. New treatments are tested on patients for the first time in phase 1 trials. The aim of these is only to make sure the potential new treatment is safe, does no unexpected harm and to find out about side effects. Only people with advanced cancer who have tried all other treatments are included in this first phase of clinical testing. The trials and research section gives information about different types of clinical trial. You can also look for trials for gallbladder cancer on our clinical trials database.
Question about cancer? Contact our information nurse team