Making decisions about treatment for advanced cancer

Deciding about treatment can be difficult when you have advanced cancer. Treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy can help to reduce symptoms and might make you feel better. But they also have side effects that can make you feel unwell for a while.

It helps to understand:

  • what treatment can do for you
  • how it might affect your quality of life
  • what side effects it has

Your doctor or specialist nurse can talk to you about the benefits and possible side effects. You can ask them questions.

You might also find it helps to talk things over with a close relative, a friend or a counsellor at the hospital.

For information and support you can contact our Cancer Research UK nurses on 0808 800 4040, from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

What is advanced gallbladder cancer?

Advanced gallbladder cancer means the cancer has spread from where it started in the gallbladder and it cannot 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 your doctor can’t cure your cancer, there is treatment available to control your symptoms. This may also shrink the cancer and slow it down, even if it can’t get rid of it.

Types of treatment

Treatment depends on:

  • the size and number of secondary cancers
  • where in the body the cancer has spread
  • the treatment you have already had
  • your general health

Possible treatment

Chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery can all be used to treat advanced gallbladder cancer.

If the cancer blocks bile drainage from your gallbladder, you can have a stent put in. This drainage tube allows the bile to drain into the small bowel again and can help to relieve your symptoms.

Your choices

Your doctor might offer you a choice of treatments. Discuss each treatment with them and ask how they can control any side effects. This helps you make the right decision for you. You also need to think about the other factors involved in each treatment, such as:

  • whether you need extra appointments
  • if you need more tests
  • the distance you need to travel to and from hospital

You might have to make further choices as your situation changes. It helps to find out as much as possible each time. You can stop a treatment whenever you want to if you find it too much to cope with.

If you decide not to have treatment

You may decide not to have cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy. But you can still have medicines to help control symptoms, such as sickness or pain.

Your doctor or nurse will explain what could help you. You can also ask them to refer you to a local symptom control team to give you support at home.

Last reviewed: 
06 Feb 2020
  • Cancer and its management (7th edition)
    Tobias J and Hochhauser D
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

  • Biliary cancer: ESMO clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow up. 
    Eckel F, Brunner T, Jelic S (2016)
    Annals of Oncology (supplement 5): v27-v38

Related links