Chemotherapy drugs for gallbladder cancer and their side effects | Cancer Research UK
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Chemotherapy drugs for gallbladder cancer and their side effects

Men and women discussing gallbladder cancer

This page is about the chemotherapy drugs used for gallbladder cancer. There is information on


A quick guide to what's on this page

Chemotherapy drugs

Doctors often use a combination of chemotherapy drugs to treat gallbladder cancer. The drugs most commonly used together are gemcitabine and cisplatin. If you are unable to have this, your doctor may offer either gemcitabine, fluorouracil (5-FU) or capecitabine instead.

Side effects

All chemotherapy drugs have side effects. Which ones you get depends on the drugs and doses you have and your body’s individual reaction. Common chemotherapy side effects are

  • A fall in the number of blood cells
  • Feeling sick
  • Diarrhoea
  • Sore mouth and mouth ulcers
  • Hair loss or thinning
  • Feeling tired and run down

If you are low on white blood cells, you are more at risk of picking up infections. If this happens, you will need antibiotics. Being low on red blood cells causes tiredness and breathlessness. You may need to have a blood transfusion or treatment with erythropoietin.


CR PDF Icon View a summary of treating gallbladder cancer.


Chemotherapy drugs you might have

Doctors might use a drug on its own or a combination of drugs to treat gallbladder cancer. Gemcitabine and cisplatin are often used together to treat gallbladder cancer that cannot be removed with surgery. You usually have this combination once a week for 2 weeks, and then a week off. This makes one cycle of treatment. You may have this treatment up to 8 times. If you are unable to have cisplatin, you may have a drug called oxaliplatin instead.

If you are not well enough to have a combination of chemotherapy drugs, you may have gemcitabine on its own as it is likely to have fewer side effects. You usually have this weekly for 3 weeks and then a week off. You have the treatment through a drip into your arm. Each treatment takes about half an hour. Other drugs your doctor may suggest to have on their own are

  • Fluorouracil (5-FU) 
  • Capecitabine

There is information about the specific side effects of gemcitabine, cisplatin, oxaliplatin, fluorouracil and capecitabine in the section on cancer drugs. There is general side effect information below.


Side effects of chemo for gallbladder cancer

Drugs affect people in different ways. Not everyone will have the same side effects with the same drug. Some people have very few side effects - others have more. It is not possible to tell exactly how you will react until you have had that particular drug. Some side effects are quite common with many chemotherapy drugs - they include

Not all these side effects happen with every drug. All the drugs have different side effects. The links above will take you to the main chemotherapy section, where there is more information about chemotherapy side effects and how to deal with them.

You will have regular blood tests to make sure you are not getting too low on blood cells. If you are low on white blood cells, you are more likely to pick up infections. If this happens, you will need antibiotics. If you are low on red blood cells, you have anaemia, with tiredness and breathlessness. You may need to have a blood transfusion.

Remember - contact your doctor or chemotherapy nurse straight away if you think you have an infection. If you have a temperature of 38 degrees C or more, let the hospital know straight away.


Feeling tired

Many people are able to carry on almost as normal when they are having chemotherapy. But many others become very tired. The further through your course of chemotherapy treatment you get, the more likely you are to feel tired and run down. If this happens to you, try to take things more slowly. If you feel like having a lie down or putting your feet up, then you probably need to do just that. Don't struggle on trying to cope with everything you did before you were ill. You will probably get over the treatment more quickly in the long run if you don't overdo it. If you do feel like it though, a small amount of gentle daily exercise will do you good and may help you to feel less tired.

Remember - all these side effects will begin to get better as soon as the treatment is over. Holding on to that thought may make them easier to cope with at the time.

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Updated: 12 June 2014