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Gallbladder Cancer Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Localized Gallbladder Cancer

When gallbladder cancer is previously unsuspected and is discovered in the mucosa of the gallbladder at pathologic examination, it is curable in more than 80% of cases. Gallbladder cancer suspected before surgery because of symptoms, however, usually penetrates the muscularis and serosa and is curable in fewer than 5% of patients.

One study reported on patterns of lymph node spread from gallbladder cancer and outcomes of patients with metastases to lymph nodes in 111 consecutive surgical patients in a single institution from 1981 to 1995.[1][Level of evidence: 3iiiA] The standard surgical procedure was removal of the gallbladder, a wedge resection of the liver, resection of the extrahepatic bile duct, and resection of the regional (N1 and N2) lymph nodes. Kaplan-Meier estimates of the 5-year survival for node negative tumors pathologically staged as T2 to T4 were 42.5% ± 6.5% and for similar node positive tumors, 31% ± 6.2%.

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Standard treatment options:

  1. Surgery: In previously unsuspected gallbladder cancer, discovered in the surgical specimen following a routine gallbladder operation and confined to mucosa or muscle layer (T1), the majority of patients are cured and require no further surgical intervention.[2,3] Re-exploration to resect liver tissue near the gallbladder bed or extended or formal hepatectomy and lymphadenectomy including N1 and N2 lymph node basins may be associated with delayed recurrences or extended survival in patients with stage I or II gallbladder cancer.[4,5] Apparently localized cancers that are suspected before or during the operation can be surgically removed with a wedge of liver and lymph nodes and lymphatic tissue in the hepatoduodenal ligament. Long-term disease-free survival will occasionally be achieved. In jaundiced patients (stage III or stage IV), there should be consideration of preoperative percutaneous transhepatic biliary drainage for relief of biliary obstruction.

    Implantation of the carcinoma at all port sites (including the camera site) after laparoscopic removal of an unsuspected cancer is a problem. Even for stage I cancers, the port sites must be excised completely.[6]

  2. External-beam radiation therapy (EBRT): The use of EBRT with or without chemotherapy as a primary treatment has been reported in small groups of patients to produce short-term control. Similar benefits have been reported for radiation therapy with or without chemotherapy administered following resection.[7,8]
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