Screening for gallbladder cancer

There is no national screening programme for gallbladder cancer in the UK. This is because there isn’t a test that can pick up gallbladder cancer at an early stage.

What is cancer screening?

Screening means testing people for early stages of a disease. This is before they have any symptoms. For screening to be useful the tests:

  • need to be reliable at picking up cancers
  • overall must do more good than harm to people taking part
  • must be something that people are willing to do

Screening tests are not perfect and have some risks. The screening programme should also be good value for money for the NHS.

Why isn’t there a screening programme for gallbladder cancer in the UK?

There is no screening programme for gallbladder cancer in the UK because:

  • doctors wouldn't find many cancers because it's so rare
  • there is no suitable test to use for gallbladder cancer screening
  • current tests have risks that outweigh the benefits for most people
  • the cost of screening would be high

With rare cancers, it is more cost effective to screen people who are thought to be at a higher risk. Talk to your GP if you think you are at a higher than average risk of gallbladder cancer. If your doctor agrees that you are at a higher risk, they may be able to give you regular check ups.

Screening for people with primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC)

Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) is a rare disease that causes inflammation of the bile ducts. People with PSC have an increased risk of developing gallbladder cancer. 

You have regular check ups if you are diagnosed with PSC. You might have scans and blood tests regularly to check for signs of gallbladder cancer. 

  • Biliary tract cancer: ESMO Clinical Practice Guideline for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up
    A. Vogel and others
    Annals of Oncology, 2023. Volume 34, Issue 2, Pages 127-140

  • British Society of Gastroenterology and UK-PSC guidelines for the diagnosis and management of primary sclerosing cholangitis
    MH Chapman and others
    Gut, 2019. Vol 68, Issue 8. Pages 1356-1378

  • Referral Guidelines for Suspected Cancers
    The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE)
    June 2015

  • Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (12th edition)
    VT DeVita, TS Lawrence, SA Rosenberg
    Wolters Kluwer, 2023

Last reviewed: 
13 Sep 2023
Next review due: 
13 Sep 2026

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