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Gallbladder cancer is a relatively rare malignancy that originates in the tissues of the gallbladder, a small pear-shaped organ located under the liver on the right side of the abdomen. Most tumors arise in the inner lining of the gallbladder. From there, the cancer can potentially spread to nearby tissues or metastasize to distant organs.

Early warning signs of gallbladder cancer

Early-stage gallbladder cancer is usually asymptomatic, making it challenging to detect. However, as the tumor grows, symptoms may become noticeable.

man speaking to doctor about gallbladder symptoms

What does gallbladder cancer look like?

One of the first visible warning signs of gallbladder cancer is jaundice, which is characterized by a yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes. A gallbladder tumor can cause jaundice by obstructing a bile duct, which is a tube that carries bile from the liver to the small intestine. Bile, which is produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder, plays a crucial role in the digestion and absorption of fats in the intestines.

If a gallbladder tumor grows large enough to block a bile duct, bile will not flow properly, leading to a buildup of bilirubin in the bloodstream. Bilirubin is a yellow pigment produced by the liver when it breaks down old red blood cells. Normally, bilirubin is excreted in bile and urine, but if it builds up in the blood, it can cause the characteristic yellowing associated with jaundice.

If a gallbladder tumor obstructs a bile duct, it can also cause noticeable changes in the color of the urine and stool. The urine may appear darker in color due to the resulting buildup of bilirubin, while the stool may appear lighter in color if bile is prevented from reaching the intestines.

What does gallbladder cancer feel like?

Common sensations associated with gallbladder cancer include persistent abdominal discomfort, particularly in the upper right portion of the abdomen, which may feel like a dull ache or sharp stabbing pain. Some people also experience a loss of appetite along with an uncomfortable feeling of fullness, particularly after eating.

Other symptoms of gallbladder cancer

Gallbladder cancer can also cause:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Fever
  • Weakness and fatigue

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Symptoms of advanced gallbladder cancer

As gallbladder cancer progresses, its symptoms typically become more pronounced. For instance, the associated abdominal pain may worsen and radiate toward the back or shoulder blades. Sometimes, a mass can be felt on the right side of the abdomen due to gallbladder enlargement, swelling or bile buildup.

If cancer cells enter the bloodstream or lymphatic system, they can travel throughout the body and spread (metastasize) to distant organs and tissues. Depending on the site of metastasis, advanced gallbladder cancer may cause:

  • Bone pain, if the cancer has spread to the bones
  • Shortness of breath, if the cancer has spread to the lungs
  • Neurological symptoms, if the cancer has spread to the brain

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about gallbladder cancer signs and symptoms

The following FAQs-related articles provide additional information about gallbladder cancer signs and symptoms:

Benefit from world-class care at Moffitt Cancer Center

The multispecialty team in Moffitt’s Gastrointestinal Oncology Program provides a comprehensive range of diagnostic services, treatment options, clinical trials and supportive care from experts who focus exclusively on gastrointestinal cancers. Because Moffitt is a high-volume cancer center, our physicians have opportunities to treat many patients with gallbladder cancer and other uncommon malignancies. Our unparalleled clinical expertise, combined with our advanced treatment technologies and personalized approach to care, helps to ensure that our patients can achieve the best possible outcome and quality of life.

If you would like to discuss your gallbladder cancer symptoms with a specialist at Moffitt, you can request an appointment by calling 1-888-663-3488 or submitting a new patient registration form online. We do not require referrals.