What Does Gallbladder Cancer Feel Like?

Medically Reviewed on 3/30/2022

Gallbladder cancer is generally hard to diagnose at an early stage.
The pain from gallbladder cancer feels like aching, something described as a “dragging feeling” in the upper right side of the abdomen.

Gallbladder cancer is generally hard to diagnose at an early stage. This is because it does not cause any specific signs or symptoms at an earlier stage. Also, the gallbladder is hidden behind other organs making cancer less likely to get detected. Hence, most gallbladder cancers are often detected in advanced stages.

The pain from gallbladder cancer feels like aching, something described as a “dragging feeling” in the upper right side of the abdomen. Other signs and symptoms of this cancer include

What causes gallbladder cancer?

It is not clear what causes gallbladder cancer. Changes in the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) of the cell known as mutations are known to trigger the uncontrolled growth of the cells. These cells do not die at a certain time like other cells but accumulate and give rise to gallbladder tumors or cancer.

It is thought that inflammation and irritation of the gallbladder for a long time can lead to gallbladder cancer. This inflammation and irritation can be caused by

  • Chronic gallbladder inflammation (such as in cholecystitis).
  • Reflux of pancreatic juice into the bile duct (due to problems in the bile duct).

Certain factors increase your risk for gallbladder cancer. These include

  • Gallstones
  • Other conditions of the gallbladder
    • Infection
    • Polyp (a growth that protrudes from the lining of the inside of the gallbladder)
    • Porcelain gallbladder (a condition in which the wall of the gallbladder becomes covered with calcium deposits)
    • Female gender (three to four times more common in women than in men)
  • Obesity
  • Older age (most common in 65 years of age and above)
  • Ethnicity (more common in Mexican and Latin Americans and Native Americans)
  • Choledochal cysts (bile-filled sacs along the common bile duct, the tube that carries bile from the liver and gallbladder to the small intestine)
  • Typhoid
  • Family history of gallbladder cancer

Studies have found a link between the following risk factors and smoking, but robust evidence is lacking.

  • Smoking
  • Exposure to chemicals used in the textile and rubber industries
  • Exposure to nitrosamines


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How is gallbladder cancer diagnosed?

Blood tests

Blood tests known as liver function tests can help the doctor diagnose problems in your gallbladder, liver, or pancreas. Certain substances, called tumor markers, may be raised in the blood of cancer patients. The tumor markers for gallbladder cancer, such as carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) and carbohydrate antigen (CA) 19-9, may also be measured through blood tests.


Ultrasound (US), particularly abdominal ultrasound, is a simple test that does not use radiation. It is often the first test used to look at the organs for signs or symptoms such as jaundice abdominal pain.

The endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) test is more accurate than the abdominal US. For this test, a small US probe on the tip of a thin, flexible tube is inserted through a small incision into your abdomen to look for signs of pancreatic cancer. A small piece of the tumor may also be removed (biopsy) and sent to the laboratory to check for cancerous cells.

Computerized tomography (CT) scan

A CT scan uses multiple X-rays to take detailed pictures of the inside of the abdomen. It helps diagnose gallbladder cancer by showing tumors in the area and also helps know the stage of cancer.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

This imaging test uses strong radio waves and magnets, but not radiation. Similar to a CT scan, it provides detailed pictures of the gallbladder.

Explorative laparoscopy

Doctors put a thin, flexible tube-like camera through a small incision into your abdomen and look at the abnormalities in the gallbladder and its surrounding structures. This surgical procedure is known as explorative laparoscopy. If they suspect a tumor, they may remove the gallbladder at this time and send the small piece of the tumor to the laboratory to confirm if it was cancer. This procedure is known as a biopsy.


This imaging test looks for the blockage, narrowing, or dilation in the bile ducts.


In this test, a dye is injected into an artery leading to the gallbladder. This highlights any problems in your blood vessels around the pancreas and shows them up on an X-ray.

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Medically Reviewed on 3/30/2022
Gallbladder Cancer. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/gallbladder-cancer/

Gallbladder Cancer. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/278641-overview