Having chemotherapy for advanced gallbladder cancer

If you have advanced gallbladder cancer, your doctor might suggest chemotherapy to shrink the cancer, slow its growth or relieve symptoms.

Chemotherapy for locally advanced gallbladder cancer

Locally advanced gallbladder cancer means that the cancer has spread into the area around the gallbladder. Some small studies show that chemotherapy in combination with surgery or radiotherapy might help to control it for short periods. But we need more results from clinical trials before we will know how well combined radiotherapy and chemotherapy works in this situation.

Chemotherapy for advanced cancer

The most common type of chemotherapy for advanced gallbladder cancer is a combination of gemcitabine and cisplatin. If you can't have cisplatin, you might be offered oxaliplatin. Or you might have either gemcitabine, fluorouracil (5-FU) or capecitabine on their own.

How you have it

Most of the chemotherapy drugs for gallbladder cancer are given into the bloodstream through a small tube put into a vein in your arm. Capecitabine is a tablet that you swallow. 

Into your bloodstream

You have the treatment through a drip into your arm or hand. A nurse puts a small tube (a cannula) into one of your veins and connects the drip to it.

You might need a central line. This is a long plastic tube that gives the drugs into a large vein, either in your chest or through a vein in your arm. It stays in while you’re having treatment, which may be for a few months.

Taking your tablets

You must take tablets according to the instructions your doctor or pharmacist gives you.

Speak to your pharmacist if you have problems swallowing the tablets.

Whether you have a full or an empty stomach can affect how much of a drug gets into your bloodstream.

You should take the right dose, no more or less.

Talk to your specialist or advice line before you stop taking a cancer drug.

Where you have chemotherapy

You usually have treatment into your bloodstream at the cancer day clinic. You might sit in a chair for a few hours so it’s a good idea to take things in to do. For example, newspapers, books or electronic devices can all help to pass the time. You can usually bring a friend or family member with you.

You have some types of chemotherapy over several days. You might be able to have some drugs through a small portable pump that you take home.

For some types of chemotherapy you have to stay in a hospital ward. This could be overnight or for a couple of days.

Before you start chemotherapy

You need to have blood tests to make sure it’s safe to start treatment. You have these either a few days before or on the day you start treatment. You have blood tests before each round or cycle of treatment.

Side effects

Common chemotherapy side effects include:

  • feeling sick
  • loss of appetite
  • losing weight
  • feeling very tired
  • a lower resistance to infections
  • bleeding and bruising easily
  • diarrhoea or constipation
  • hair loss
Contact your doctor or nurse immediately if you have signs of infection. These include a temperature above 37.5C or below 36C, or generally feeling unwell. Infections can make you very unwell very quickly.

Side effects depend on:

  • which drugs you have
  • how much of each drug you have
  • how you react

Tell your treatment team about any side effects that you have.

Chemotherapy for gallbladder cancer can be difficult to cope with. Tell your doctor or nurse about any problems or side effects that you have. The nurse will give you telephone numbers to call if you have any problems at home.

Last reviewed: 
11 Feb 2020
  • Cisplatin plus gemcitabine versus gemcitabine for biliary tract cancer
    J Valle and others (2010)
    New England Journal of Medicine, 362: 1273-81

  • Biliary cancer: ESMO clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow up
    J W Valle and others
    Annals of Oncology, 2016, (supplement 5): v65-v69

  • Gallbladder Cancer in the 21st Century

    R Kanthan and others (2015)

    Journal of Oncology, August: 1 - 26

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