Types of surgery

If your gallbladder cancer is at an advanced stage where it can’t be cured, you might have surgery to relieve your symptoms.

Surgery can give you a better quality of life for longer. Sometimes the cancer stops bile from going from the gallbladder into the small bowel and you get jaundice. Then your doctor might suggest putting a small tube called a stent into your bile duct. You should be able to see the jaundice reducing within a day or two of having your stent put in.

Or your doctor might need to do an operation to bypass the blockage.

Having a stent

What it is

A stent is a small tube that goes inside the bile duct or bowel to keep it open and stop jaundice.

Most stents are made of an expandable wire mesh. If they get blocked, it is often possible to unblock them or put in a new stent.

How you have a stent

Stents can be put in with:

  • an endoscope
  • a needle and guide wire put through the skin (percutaneously)

By endoscopy

If the cancer is near to your stomach or in the first part of your small bowel (the duodenum) your doctor might put the stent in endoscopically.

You have a sedative injection. The doctor then puts a long, flexible tube called an endoscope into your mouth and down your throat to your stomach. It passes through to the beginning of the small bowel (your duodenum) and the opening of your bile duct.

Diagram showing the position of the gallbladder and bile ducts

The doctor injects dye into the bile duct. X-ray then shows where the duct is blocked. The doctor can stretch the bile duct open and put the stent in place.

Through the skin

You’ll have a sedative and a local anaesthetic to numb the area where the needle is to be put in.

Before the procedure begins, the radiologist takes an x-ray of your abdominal area with an overhead camera. This comes up on a screen that the doctor can watch while they do the procedure.

The doctor pushes a needle attached to a guide wire between two of your ribs on your right side. Your doctor can carefully guides the needle into position by watching the screen.

The doctor injects the dye so it shows up on x-ray and shows up the blockages in your bile duct system. Once the needle is in exactly the right place, the doctor feeds the stent along the guide wire and takes the needle out. The whole procedure usually takes about an hour.

Side effects after a stent

For most people there are few side effects from having a stent put in, whichever way it is done.

You might have some soreness of the skin if you have the stent though the skin. This should only last a day or two.

The liver has a very rich blood supply and sometimes bleeds a little after this procedure.

Contact your doctor straight away if you have pain, swelling or bruising over the liver area.

Some people have blood in their poo. In a small number of people this is a sign of a leaking blood vessel in the liver. Let your doctor know if you have blood in your poo. You might need further treatment to stop the bleeding and a blood transfusion to replace lost blood.

Infection is a possible side effect. You might have antibiotics for a few days after your stent to try to prevent this. While you have a stent you are at risk of infection. Bacteria from the gut can travel up the stent to the gallbladder. 

Contact your doctor straight away if you have signs of infection (high temperature and shivering). You may need to go into hospital for antibiotic treatment.

Sometimes stents can become blocked after a few months and you might notice jaundice again. If this happens, you can have the stent unblocked or replaced.

Bypass surgery

A bypass means that the surgeon will cut your gallbladder or bile duct above the blockage and reconnect it to your small bowel (intestine). This allows the bile to go around (bypass) the cancer. It is quite a major operation.

If you are considering whether to have this type of major surgery, you may want to talk it over with your close family and friends. You can also talk to your doctor and nurses.

No one can know beforehand how much the operation will help you. It is likely to be quite a big operation just when you are feeling very low. But you may make a good recovery and feel better for longer if you do have the surgery.

Last reviewed: 
06 Feb 2020
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