Survival rates for gallbladder cancer depend on the stage of cancer at the time of diagnosis. In the United States, the combined 5-year relative survival rate across all stages (local, regional, and distant) is 19%.

Gallbladder cancer is a rare and aggressive form of cancer. Early diagnosis is uncommon, leading to low overall survival rates.

However, many factors, such as age, response to treatment, and overall health, can influence survival and treatment options for someone with gallbladder cancer.

In this article, we take a closer look at the survival rates for gallbladder cancer and the factors influencing those rates.

Fast facts

  • Gallbladder cancer is a rare disease where cancerous cells are found in gallbladder tissues.
  • Gallbladder cancer is the 23rd most common cancer in the world.
  • The average age of diagnosis with gallbladder cancer is 72.
  • In the United States, gallbladder cancer is 3 to 4 times more common in women than men.
  • The American Cancer Society estimates that 12,200 new cases of gallbladder cancer will be diagnosed in 2023.
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Survival rates for gallbladder cancer depend on the stage of the cancer when it is diagnosed. Because gallbladder cancers are often diagnosed in the later stages, the overall relative 5-year survival rates are typically low.

However, many factors influence survival rates. For example, the rates are much higher for gallbladder cancer that has not yet spread beyond the gallbladder.

The American Cancer Society uses the SEER database to track relative survival rates in the United States. This database groups gallbladder cancer into three categories based on how far it has spread:

  • Localized: Cancer has not been shown to spread beyond the gallbladder.
  • Regional: Cancer has spread from the gallbladder to nearby lymph nodes or structures.
  • Distant: Cancer has spread to further areas of the body, such as the lungs.

Based on these categories, below are the relative 5-year survival rates for gallbladder cancer. The data is pulled from National Institutes of Health gallbladder cancer diagnoses in the United States between 2011 and 2017:

SEER stage of cancer5-year relative survival rate
all stages combined19%

These numbers only apply to the stage of the cancer when it was first diagnosed. They do not take into account individual factors such as age, overall health, and response to treatment.

People with cancer today often have a better outlook than the numbers present. This is due to improved treatments and an overall better understanding of cancer.

What is a relative survival rate?

A relative survival rate gives you an idea of how long someone with a specific condition may live beyond their diagnosis compared with someone without the condition.

For example, a 5-year relative survival rate of 19% means someone with that condition is 19% as likely to live for 5 years as someone without the condition.

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Many factors influence the survival rates for gallbladder cancer. These factors include:

  • Age: Younger people usually have a better outlook.
  • Cancer stage at diagnosis: The earlier the cancer is diagnosed, the more likely it can be treated.
  • Where the cancer has spread: The outcome is improved if the cancer remains localized.
  • Response to treatment: How well your cancer responds to treatment affects the overall outlook.
  • Overall health: People with fewer health complications may have an improved outlook.

Is gallbladder cancer curable?

If gallbladder cancer is diagnosed at an early stage and before it has spread, it may be curable. It would require surgery to completely remove the tumor, possibly followed by chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

Because gallbladder cancer is often not diagnosed until a later stage, treatments are often focused on managing symptoms and improving quality of life.

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Gallbladder cancer usually develops over a span of 5 to 15 years. Often, there are no noticeable symptoms during that time.

Once it has developed, gallbladder cancer is considered an aggressive cancer and often spreads rapidly. It’s important to start treatment as soon as possible after diagnosis to help prevent it from spreading further.

Gallbladder cancer is rarely diagnosed in the early stages, making early and effective treatment difficult. This is because the gallbladder is located deep in the body, making small tumors hard to detect. Additionally, there are no conclusive blood or other tests that can be used for early detection.

When gallbladder cancer is detected early, it’s usually found during unrelated exams or procedures.

Once the cancer begins to spread, it typically starts with the lymph nodes or nearby organs, such as the pancreas, bile ducts, or liver.

Symptoms of gallbladder cancer

Gallbladder cancer does not typically have symptoms, but if symptoms are present, they can include:

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Gallbladder cancer is a rare, aggressive cancer that is not usually diagnosed in its early stages. When diagnosed early, it’s often found during other unrelated tests or procedures.

The stage the cancer is diagnosed greatly affects the survival rate for people with gallbladder cancer.

While the overall 5-year survival rate is low for gallbladder cancer, many factors can affect a person’s outlook. Age, response to treatment, and overall health all play significant roles in the outlook of people with gallbladder cancer.

Due to improved treatments and a better understanding of cancer, people with cancer today often have a better future than the numbers present.