Gallbladder wall thickening can be a sign of a cancerous or noncancerous gallbladder condition. Some conditions other than gallbladder cancer, like hepatitis, can also cause gallbladder thickening.

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Your gallbladder is a small organ found beneath your liver. Thickening of your gallbladder wall may be a sign of a medical condition starting inside or outside of your gallbladder.

A thickened gallbladder wall is a classic sign of a condition called “chronic cholecystitis,” a long-term inflammation of your gallbladder often related to gallstones.

Changes in your gallbladder wall can also be a sign of gallbladder cancer. In cases of cancer, often only one small part of your gallbladder wall is enlarged. Conditions that start outside the gallbladder, such as hepatitis and kidney failure, have also been linked to gallbladder wall thickening.

Read on for more information about gallbladder wall thickening, including causes, diagnosis, and treatment options.

Learn more about your gallbladder.

On an ultrasound, your gallbladder wall is typically about as thick as a pencil-thin drawn line. A thickness of more than 3 millimeters seen on imaging is often considered to be atypical.

A thickened gallbladder wall isn’t a medical diagnosis by itself but a sign of other conditions. These conditions may start in your gallbladder or other parts of your body, such as your liver or kidneys.

Gallbladder wall thickening may be a sign of many conditions that start inside or outside the gallbladder. The thickening may be contained to one section of your gallbladder or spread throughout the gallbladder.

Thickening throughout the gallbladder is usually a sign of a noncancerous inflammatory condition.

Around 20–30% of people who have the most common type of gallbladder cancer, called “gallbladder carcinoma,” have gallbladder thickening.

Gallbladder wall thickening may be a sign of noncancerous gallbladder conditions such as:

  • chronic cholecystitis, inflammation of your gallbladder
  • adenomyomatosis, thickening of an unknown cause
  • xanthogranulomatous cholecystitis, a variation of chronic cholecystitis

Conditions that start outside of the gallbladder and can cause thickening of the gallbladder wall include:

Gallbladder wall thickening may also be a sign of gallbladder carcinoma or other types of gallbladder cancer, such as cancer that has spread from other areas or lymphoma.

Melanoma is the most common distant cancer that may spread to the gallbladder.

A thickened gallbladder may not cause symptoms itself, but the underlying cause may cause symptoms. About two-thirds of people with xanthogranulomatous cholecystitis also have gallstones, which can cause symptoms such as:

Gallbladder cancer often doesn’t cause symptoms until the cancer grows large or spreads, but it can cause symptoms similar to gallstones or cholecystitis, as well as:

  • bloating
  • a lump in your abdomen
  • abdominal swelling

Thicker gallbladder walls may also increase the chances of needing to convert minimally invasive gallstone surgery to open surgery.

The main way that doctors detect irregularities in your gallbladder is through imaging. An ultrasound is usually the initial test of choice for a suspected gallbladder difficulty. Ultrasounds are widely available, relatively cheap, and can provide real-time results.

You may receive a contrast-enhanced ultrasound, in which doctors inject a dye to improve the clarity of the image. You may also receive a variation of ultrasound called “shear wave elastography.”

A doctor may order CT scans or MRI scans:

Additional tests, such as a biopsy or an endoscope, may also be needed to diagnose the underlying cause.

Treatment options for thickening of the gallbladder wall depend on the underlying cause.

The most common treatments for gallbladder cancer are:

  • surgery
  • radiation therapy
  • chemotherapy

Treatment for cholecystitis depends on the underlying cause, and it may include:

Language matters

You’ll notice that the language used to share stats and other data points is pretty binary, especially the use of the term “female.”

Although we typically avoid language like this, specificity is key when reporting on research participants and clinical findings.

Unfortunately, the studies and surveys referenced in this source didn’t report data on, or include, participants who were transgender, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, genderqueer, agender, or genderless.

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Risk factors for gallbladder cancer include:

  • gallstones
  • porcelain gallbladder, in which gallbladder walls are covered in calcium
  • female sex
  • obesity
  • increasing age
  • Hispanic or Native American ethnicities (in the United States)
  • bile duct cysts or scarring
  • gallbladder polyps
  • typhoid
  • family history

Risk factors for chronic cholecystitis include:

  • female sex
  • pregnancy or hormone therapy
  • increasing age
  • Hispanic and Native American ethnicity
  • obesity
  • rapid weight loss or gain
  • diabetes

The outlook for people who have gallbladder wall thickening depends on the underlying cause.

Based on the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results data, the 5-year relative survival rates of gallbladder cancer in the United States from 2012–2018 are:

StageSurvival rate (%)
All stages20

Learn more about survival rates for gallbladder cancer.

There’s an excellent outlook for the majority of people who have cholecystitis if there aren’t complications. Cholecystitis is often treated with surgery to prevent future complications.

Gallbladder wall thickening may be a sign of an underlying medical condition affecting your gallbladder or another part of your body.

The thickening may be contained to one part of your gallbladder or spread throughout. Thickening throughout the gallbladder is often a sign of an inflammatory condition.

It’s essential to get your condition properly diagnosed if you have gallbladder wall thickening because it can be a sign of a serious condition, such as gallbladder cancer, but some causes of wall thickening are relatively easy to treat.