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What to Know About Surgery for Gallbladder Cancer

Three surgeons in a surgery suite

Surgery is a common way to treat gallbladder cancer. Gallbladder cancer surgery is referred to as potentially curative surgery or palliative surgery. Removal of the gallbladder (and nearby structures and tissues where necessary) is considered potentially curative if the surgeon believes all the cancer can be removed with surgery. If the cancer has spread too far to be completely removed surgically, then the procedure is considered palliative and is done to attempt to improve the person's quality of life by easing pain and/or preventing complications. 

The surgery to take out the gallbladder is called a cholecystectomy. A simple cholecystectomy is removal of just the gallbladder. Some people need a more extensive surgery, called an extended (or radical) cholecystectomy. In addition to removing the entire gallbladder, the following are also removed:

  • Part of the liver around the gallbladder

  • The bile duct

  • Lymph nodes in the area

Even if your cancer cannot be removed, palliative surgery can help ease your symptoms. If cancer cells are blocking the bile ducts so that bile builds up in your liver and gallbladder, your doctor may do surgery to relieve the obstruction. Before surgery, the doctor may insert a tube, called a catheter or a stent, to drain bile that has built up. The tube may drain to the outside of your body or into your small intestine. During the operation, the doctor sews part of the bile duct directly to the small intestine. This is called a biliary bypass.

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