About advanced gallbladder cancer

Unfortunately advanced cancer can’t usually be cured. But treatment can control it, relieve the symptoms, and give you a good quality of life for a while.

Advanced gallbladder cancer

Advanced gallbladder cancer means the cancer has spread from where it started in the gallbladder and it can't be removed with surgery. Or the cancer has come back some time after you were first treated.

Unfortunately, most people with gallbladder cancer already have advanced cancer when they are diagnosed. Even if treatment can’t cure your cancer, it can shrink the cancer and slow its growth. This can control symptoms for some time.

Cancer that has spread to another part of the body is called:

  • secondary cancer
  • metastases
  • metastatic cancer

Where gallbladder cancer can spread to

Gallbladder cancer most commonly spreads into nearby lymph nodes or organs, such as:

  • the pancreas
  • the bile ducts
  • the liver
  • the small bowel (duodenum)
  • the stomach
Diagram showing the anatomy of the gallbladder

It can spread further away in the body to places such as the lung or brain but this is less common.

How you might feel

Finding out that you can’t be cured is distressing and can be a shock. It’s common to feel uncertain and anxious. It's normal to not be able to think about anything else.

Lots of information and support is available to you, your family and friends. Some people find it helpful to find out more about their cancer and the treatments they might have. Many people find that knowing more about their situation can make it easier to cope.

    Talk to your doctor or specialist nurse to understand:

    • what your diagnosis means
    • what is likely to happen
    • what treatment is available
    • how treatment can help you


    Many people want to know what the outlook is and how their cancer will develop. This is different for each person. Your cancer specialist has all the information about you and your cancer. They're the best person to discuss this with.

    You can also talk to your specialist nurse.

    For information and support, you can phone the Cancer Research UK nurses on 0808 800 4040, from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.
    • Biliary cancer: ESMO clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow up
      J W Valle and others  (2016)
      Annals of Oncology (supplement 5): v27-v38

    • Current management of gallbladder carcinoma
      A Zhu, T Hong, A Hezel and Kooby (2010)
      The Oncologist, 15: 168-181

    • Cancer and its management (7th edition)
      J Tobias and D Hochhauser
      Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

    Last reviewed: 
    04 Feb 2020

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