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gallbladder cancer patient discusses treatment options

Gallbladder cancer is a relatively rare malignancy that originates in the innermost (mucosal) layer of the gallbladder. A small pear-shaped organ located below the liver in the upper right abdomen, the gallbladder stores and delivers bile, a fluid secreted by the liver to aid the digestion of fats.

Risk factors for gallbladder cancer include gallstones and chronic gallbladder inflammation. While less common than many other types of cancer, gallbladder cancer can be aggressive and challenging to treat, especially when diagnosed at an advanced stage. Treatment options may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and/or immunotherapy. Because gallbladder cancer does not rely on hormones to develop and progress, it does not respond to hormone-based treatments, which work by blocking the effects of hormones or reducing their production.

Surgery for gallbladder cancer

Surgery is often the primary treatment for gallbladder cancer, particularly if the tumor is confined to the gallbladder. The most common surgical approach is cholecystectomy, which involves the removal of the gallbladder along with some surrounding healthy tissues and lymph nodes.

If the cancer has spread beyond the gallbladder but is still confined to the liver, a surgical resection of the affected portion of the liver (hepatectomy) may be considered. Additionally, if the tumor is blocking a bile duct and bile is building up in the gallbladder, a biliary bypass may be performed to reroute the flow of bile around the blockage.

If the cancer has spread to nearby organs or tissues, a more extensive procedure, such as a bile duct resection or pancreaticoduodenectomy (Whipple procedure) may be necessary.

Chemotherapy for gallbladder cancer

A systemic treatment option for gallbladder cancer, chemotherapy involves the use of powerful drugs to destroy cancer cells or inhibit their growth. After being administered intravenously or orally, the drugs enter the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body to target and attack widespread cancer cells. The specific chemo regimen and duration of treatment can vary based on the stage and extent of the cancer and the patient’s overall health and goals.

Chemotherapy can be given before surgery to shrink a tumor and make it easier to remove. It can also be used instead of surgery to alleviate symptoms and improve the quality of life for a patient who is not a surgical candidate.

Radiation therapy for gallbladder cancer

Radiation therapy is a localized treatment option for gallbladder cancer that uses high-energy X-rays or other forms of radiation to target and destroy cancer cells. External beam radiation therapy (EBRT), the most common type used for gallbladder cancer, involves the use of an external machine (linear accelerator) that delivers the radiation directly to the tumor. The specific radiation therapy regimen and duration can vary depending on individual factors.

Like chemotherapy, radiation therapy may be administered before surgery to shrink a tumor and make it easier to remove. It can also be used instead of surgery to alleviate symptoms and improve the quality of life for a patient who is not a surgical candidate. Close monitoring is essential to manage any side effects and monitor the patient’s response to treatment.

Immunotherapy for gallbladder cancer

An emerging treatment option for gallbladder cancer, immunotherapy works by capitalizing on the natural ability of the body’s immune system to target and destroy rapidly dividing cells, including cancer cells. A common type of immunotherapy involves the use of Immune checkpoint inhibitors, which block certain proteins found on the surface of some cancer cells that inhibit the body’s immune response, such as programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1) or programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1). By blocking these proteins, immune checkpoint inhibitors can help the immune system target and attack cancer cells.

Although immunotherapy has shown promising results in some patients with gallbladder cancer, not all patients will benefit. Through ongoing research, scientists continue to explore ways to improve response rates.

Targeted therapy for gallbladder cancer

Targeted therapy is a specialized treatment approach that uses drugs that block specific molecules or pathways involved in cancer growth and progression. For gallbladder cancer, targeted therapy may target molecules such as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) or mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), which play key roles in tumor development and spread. By blocking these molecules, targeted therapy drugs can inhibit the growth and spread of cancer cells while sparing healthy tissues.

Clinical trials for gallbladder cancer

Clinical trials for gallbladder cancer play a critical role in advancing treatment options and improving outcomes. These important research studies aim to evaluate new therapies, treatment combinations and strategies for managing gallbladder cancer, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy and other novel approaches. Clinical trials may also investigate biomarkers for predicting treatment response, identifying individuals who may benefit most from specific therapies and developing personalized treatment plans.

By participating in a clinical trial, a patient can be among the first to benefit from a cutting-edge treatment that is not yet widely available. They will also have a unique opportunity to contribute to medical research and advancements in gallbladder cancer treatment.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about gallbladder cancer treatment

The following FAQs-related articles provide additional information about gallbladder cancer treatment:

Benefit from world-class care at Moffitt Cancer Center

Widely recognized among the leading cancer centers in the United States, Moffitt has been designated a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute, which exemplifies our commitment to cancer research. We are proud to offer the most advanced gallbladder cancer treatments available today, and the multispecialty team in our Gastrointestinal Oncology Program develops an individualized treatment plan for each patient.

If you would like to explore your gallbladder cancer treatment options 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.