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About chemotherapy for gallbladder cancer

Chemotherapy uses anti cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. You have them into a vein (intravenously), or as a tablet by mouth. Chemotherapy alone will not cure gallbladder cancer but specialists do use it in several different situations.

You may have chemotherapy to treat gallbladder cancer that has spread to other parts of the body (advanced cancer). Some small studies have shown that chemotherapy in combination with surgery or radiotherapy may help to control locally advanced gallbladder cancer for short periods.

Doctors are also researching chemotherapy before surgery in some patients to see if it helps to stop the cancer from coming back later. But we need more results from clinical trials to know if having the chemotherapy helps people to live longer.

 

CR PDF Icon View a summary of treating gallbladder cancer.

 

What chemotherapy is

Chemotherapy uses anti cancer or cytotoxic drugs to destroy cancer cells. The drugs work by disrupting the growth of cancer cells. They circulate in the bloodstream around the body.

Chemotherapy alone will not cure gallbladder cancer but specialists use it in several different situations.

 

Chemotherapy for advanced gallbladder cancer

If you have advanced gallbladder cancer, your doctor may suggest chemotherapy to try to shrink the cancer, slow it down, or relieve any symptoms you have. A combination of gemcitabine and cisplatin is now often used for advanced gallbladder cancer. If you are unable to have cisplatin, your doctor may offer oxaliplatin instead. Or you may have either gemcitabine, fluorouracil (5-FU) or capecitabine on their own.

You can find out about the side effects of all these drugs if you click on the links above.

 

Chemotherapy for locally advanced gallbladder cancer

Some small studies have shown that chemotherapy in combination with surgery or radiotherapy may help to control locally advanced gallbladder cancer for short periods. Clinical trials have shown that in some people, gallbladder cancers will shrink with this treatment. But we need more results from clinical trials before we will know how well combined radiotherapy and chemotherapy works for people with gallbladder cancer.

 

Chemotherapy for early stage gallbladder cancer

Doctors are researching chemotherapy before surgery in some patients to see if it helps to stop the cancer from coming back later. This is called neoadjuvant chemotherapy. There is not enough evidence at the moment to know if this can help people live longer. We need more results from clinical trials.

Doctors are also looking at chemotherapy after surgery, to see if it helps prevent gallbladder cancer coming back. This is called adjuvant chemotherapy. Although some studies show that adjuvant chemotherapy can help, the evidence from these studies is weak. So again, we need more results from clinical trials before we know whether or not adjuvant chemotherapy is helpful.

 

Clinical trials

Your specialist may ask you to take part in a clinical trial. This is because it is important for doctors to find out which treatments work best. As the aim of the treatment is to make you feel better, it is important that the chemotherapy itself does not make you too ill or that you do not have to make too many trips to the hospital. So the trials also look at the side effects the treatment causes and into ways of giving out patient treatment such as tablets or using refillable pumps.

There are fewer clinical trials for gallbladder cancer than there are for more common types of cancer. It is harder to organise and run trials for rarer cancers. And it can take longer to get enough patients to take part. Getting enough patients is critical. If the trial is too small, it won’t be powerful enough to prove that one type of treatment is any better than any other.

You can search for trials for gallbladder cancer on our clinical trials database.

 

Dietary or herbal supplements and chemotherapy

We don't yet know much scientifically about how some nutritional or herbal supplements may interact with chemotherapy. Some could be harmful. It is very important to let your doctors know if you take any supplements. Or if you are prescribed them by alternative or complementary therapy practitioners.

Talk to your specialist about any other tablets or medicines you take while you are having active treatment. There is information about the safety of herbal, vitamin and diet supplements in our complementary therapies section.

Some studies seem to suggest that fish oil preparations may reduce the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs. If you are taking or thinking of taking these supplements talk to your doctor to find out whether they could affect your treatment.

 

More about chemotherapy

For more information look at our main chemotherapy section. It explains the treatment in more detail including

If you would like more information about chemotherapy, contact our cancer information nurses. They would be happy to help.

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Updated: 12 June 2014