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Diagnosing gallbladder cancer

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An accurate gallbladder cancer diagnosis is the first step in developing a gallbladder cancer treatment plan. Your team of cancer experts at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) will use a variety of tests and tools designed for diagnosing gallbladder cancer, evaluating the disease and developing your individualized treatment. Throughout your treatment, we"ll use imaging and laboratory tests to monitor your response to treatment and modify your plan when needed.

Common tools used for diagnosing gallbladder cancer and staging the disease include:

Lab tests

Your doctor may test your blood to determine the level of bilirubin, a chemical that makes bile yellow. High levels of bilirubin may indicate a problem with either the gallbladder or the liver. Other markers of abnormal liver and/or gallbladder function that may be detected by a blood test are albumin, alkaline phosphatase, AST, ALT and GGT.

Levels of certain proteins known as tumor markers may also be checked. These proteins are often elevated in patients with certain types of cancers, although they are not specific to a certain kind of cancer, and levels may be higher than normal because of certain non-cancerous conditions. CEA and CA 19-9 are two tumor markers that may be associated with gallbladder cancer.

CT scan

A CT scan for gallbladder cancer uses X-ray images intended to give a detailed view of the gallbladder. GE Discovery™ PET/CT 600 scanner: This four-dimensional CT scanner produces detailed cross-sectional X-ray images of structures within the body. It also is designed to enable our radiologists to plan treatment in based on a patients" breathing patterns.


This procedure is often performed with an ultrasound transducer, or wand, on the skin over the abdomen. In some cases, your doctor may perform an endoscopic or laparoscopic ultrasound. For these techniques, the ultrasound device is attached to a tube, and inserted through the mouth, or through a small surgical incision.


An MRI is designed to examine the soft tissues within the body and is often used to diagnose gallbladder cancer.


A standard X-ray of the chest may be performed to see if the cancer cells have spread to the lungs.


This test allows your doctor to look at the bile ducts. It may also help in planning surgery. This test may be performed either by using an MRI machine or endoscope, or by inserting a needle through the skin of the abdomen.

An angiography is another procedure that may be used to detect gallbladder cancer. The procedure is the same as a cholangiography, except the dye is used to examine blood vessels and flow around the gallbladder and possible tumor. For this procedure, a contrast dye is injected into the body, and then X-rays are taken to reveal the gallbladder and surrounding areas.


In some cases when gallbladder cancer is detected on other tests, a surgeon may remove the gallbladder first and send a sample to the pathologist afterwards. A biopsy may be performed during laparoscopy or cholangiography. When diagnosing gallbladder cancer, your doctor may also use a procedure called fine needle aspiration, in which a thin needle is inserted into the gallbladder to remove cells, usually under the guidance of an ultrasound or CT scan.

Next topic: How is gallbladder cancer treated?

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