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Gallbladder cancer symptoms

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by

Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science at CTCA.

This page was updated on June 3, 2022.

Finding gallbladder cancer while it is still at an early stage increases the chance for better outcomes. While symptoms usually do not develop until a tumor has grown or the cancer is at an advanced stage, being aware of the possible symptoms and discussing them with a doctor right away may improve chances of catching it and treating it at an earlier stage.

Symptoms of gallbladder cancer

Possible gallbladder cancer symptoms include:

Abdominal pain

Most people with gallbladder cancer experience pain, which is usually located in the upper or upper-right abdomen. Some patients describe it as a sharp pain, while others describe it as a “dragging feeling.”

Jaundice

Because the gallbladder is located under the liver, a gallbladder tumor may block the liver’s bile duct and prevent bile from draining into the intestines. As a result, bilirubin, a yellow-orange pigment in the bile, may accumulate in the blood and body tissues, potentially in causing the skin and whites of the eyes to take on a yellowish tint, a condition known as jaundice.

Gallbladder enlargement

The gallbladder is surrounded by other organs, so it may be hard to notice an increase in its size. Sometimes a doctor may feel it during a physical examination. Doctors may also detect an increase in gallbladder size through imaging tests, such as an ultrasound.

Other gallbladder cancer symptoms

Gallbladder tumors may be associated with other symptoms, such as:

  • Nausea: Patients may feel like they’re going to vomit.
  • Vomiting: Patients may have an upset stomach and find it difficult to keep food down.
  • Loss of appetite: Some patients feel less hungry than usual.
  • Weight loss: Unexplained or unintentional weight loss is common among cancer patients.
  • Abdominal swelling: If the tumor obstructs the bile duct, bile buildup may cause the gallbladder to swell. Abdominal swelling may also occur if the cancer spreads to the liver.
  • Severe itching: Bile salts in the blood may cause extreme itchiness.
  • Black, tarry stools: Stools may be black or tarry, indicating bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal system.
  • Dark urine: Urine may appear dark brown or bright yellow.
  • Light-colored stools: Bile accumulation may cause the stool to become gray or clay-colored or appear greasy.

Gallbladder cancer is rare. Many other conditions may cause the symptoms described above. People with gallstones may experience some of the same challenges, including severe abdominal pain. Conditions such as hepatitis and certain medications, including oral contraceptives, anabolic steroids and penicillin, may cause jaundice. Abdominal swelling may occur for a variety of reasons.

Next topic: What are the types of gallbladder cancer?

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