Laparoscopy is an operation to look inside your tummy (abdomen). Doctors use it to look directly at your gallbladder to see any signs of cancer.

They also want to try to work out how big the cancer is and whether it has spread.

Your surgeon puts a thin tube with a light and a camera (laparoscope) through one or more small cuts in your abdomen. They check the gallbladder and the area around it. They might also take tissue samples (biopsies).

Diagram showing the position of the gallbladder and bile ducts

Before your laparoscopy

You might have some tests to make sure you are fit enough for the procedure. A nurse weighs you and takes your blood pressure, pulse and temperature. You might also have blood tests, a heart trace (ECG) and a chest x-ray. 

You can ask any questions you might have and sign the consent form.

Tell your doctor if you’re taking medicine that changes how your blood clots. Your doctor will tell you if you need to stop your medicines or change the dose before the laparoscopy.

You can’t eat for 6 hours before the operation. You might be able to have water for up to 2 hours beforehand. The hospital staff will give you instructions about this.

Tell your doctor if not eating could be a problem for you, for example if you have diabetes.

Having a laparoscopy

You have the operation under general anaesthetic. It takes about half an hour.

The surgeon usually makes 2 or 3 small cuts. One cut is in or near your tummy button. You also have them on one or both sides of your abdomen

The surgeon puts a gas (carbon dioxide) into your abdomen. This makes it easier for them to see the organs there, including the liver, stomach, gallbladder and others. They put a thin tube with a light and camera attached through one of the cuts. The pictures from this are displayed on a TV screen they can see. They put surgical instruments through the other cuts.

They look for signs of cancer in your lymph nodes and the surfaces of organs. They also take samples of tissue (biopsies) and fluid to send to the laboratory.

Then your surgeon removes the gas tube and instruments and stitches the small holes.

If you have gallstones or an inflamed gallbladder, your surgeon might remove your gallbladder. This operation is called a cholecystectomy.

After the laparoscopy

You’ll wake up in the recovery area and then go back to the ward. You might have fluids through a drip in the back of your hand or arm. Once you’re awake and drinking, your nurse takes the drip out. You should be able to eat and drink normally once you feel able to.

You might have some pain in your abdomen for a few days. You might also have some shoulder pain for a day or two due to the gas in your abdomen.

You usually have paper stitches over the wounds (Steri-Strips) or dissolvable stitches. You also have a waterproof dressing over them. You can shower or bathe as usual. You can soak off the dressing and paper stitches 5 days after your operation if they haven’t fallen off already.

Getting your results

You should get your results within 1 or 2 weeks at a follow up appointment. 

Waiting for test results can be a very worrying time. You might have contact details for a specialist nurse who you can contact for information if you need to. It can help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel.

You can also contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040 for information and support. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Contact the doctor who arranged the test if you haven’t heard anything after a couple of weeks.

Possible risks

Most people won’t have problems from this type of operation. Your nurse will tell you what to look out for. They’ll also give you a number to contact if you have any problems.

Your doctor makes sure the benefits of having the operation outweigh the risks, which include:

Wound infection

This is treated with antibiotics.


You may have some bleeding during or after surgery. You might need to have a blood transfusion or another operation.

Blood clot

You may get a blood clot in your legs know as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). To help reduce the risks of blood clots you have to get up shortly after your operation and move around.

Small hole in bowel wall

You may get a small hole (perforation) in your bowel wall. This is extremely rare and is treated with antibiotics and fluids through a drip. Or you may need to have surgery to repair the hole.

When to contact your GP

Contact your GP or the hospital if you have:

  • a high temperature or feel unwell
  • redness or swelling around your wound or if it is leaking fluid
  • pain in your abdomen that is getting worse
  • pain or swelling in one or both legs
Last reviewed: 
09 Jan 2020
  • Biliary cancer: European Society of Medical Oncology clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow up
    Valle J W and others
    Annals of Oncology, 2016 (supplement 5): v27-v38

  • The Royal Marsden Manual of Clinical Nursing Procedures. 9th Ed.
    Doughty L and Lister S (Eds)
    Wiley Blackwell, 2015.



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