How We Diagnose Gallbladder Cancer
Gallbladder cancer is difficult to diagnose because the gallbladder is hidden behind other organs in the abdomen. Symptoms of gallbladder cancer may resemble other gallbladder diseases such as gallstones or infection, which in some cases may result in no symptoms in the early stages.

Diagnostic tests are needed to determine whether symptoms are, in fact, gallbladder cancer. If cancer is found, additional tests may be used to assess the stage of the disease, specifically, how advanced the cancer is, and whether it has metastasized (spread outside the esophagus ).
 
  • A biopsy— taking a small sample of tissue for examination under a microscope —may also be required to confirm a diagnosis of cancer.
 
  • Ultrasound exam: High-energy sound waves (ultrasound) are bounced off internal tissues or organs and make echoes that form a picture of body tissues called a sonogram. An abdominal ultrasound is done to diagnose gallbladder cancer.
 
  • Liver function tests: Blood samples are analyzed to measure the amounts of certain substances released into the blood by the liver. A higher than normal amount of a substance can be a sign of liver disease that may be caused by gallbladder cancer.
 
  • Blood chemistry studies: A blood sample is analyzed to measure the amounts of certain substances released into the blood by organs and tissues in the body. An unusual (higher or lower than normal) amount of a substance can be a sign of disease in the organ or tissue that produces it.
 
  • CT or CAT (computerized axial tomography) scan: This procedure uses a computer connected to an X-ray machine to obtain detailed pictures of areas inside the body. A dye may be used to help visualize organs or tissues more clearly.
 
  • PTC (percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography): A procedure used to x-ray the liver and bile ducts. A thin needle is inserted through the skin below the ribs and into the liver. Dye is injected into the liver or bile ducts and an x-ray is taken. If a blockage is found, a thin, flexible tube called a stent is sometimes left in the liver to drain bile into the small intestine or a collection bag outside the body.
     
  • Laparoscopy: This surgical staging procedure is used to examine internal organs. An incision is made in the abdominal wall and a thin, lighted tube called a laparoscope is inserted into the abdomen. Tissue samples and lymph nodes may be removed for biopsy.
 
  • PET (positron emission tomography) scan: PET is used to identify malignant cells. First, a small amount of radionuclide glucose (sugar) is injected into a vein, and then the scan begins. Cancer cells take up more glucose than normal cells and appear brighter in the scan.