Gallbladder Cancer Tests

How Gallbladder Cancer Is Diagnosed

How is gallbladder cancer detected?

  • Catching gallbladder cancer early — before it has a chance to grow and spread — is crucial to successful treatment. Although there are no screening guidelines for this cancer, it can be detected during a patient’s annual physical exam. If blood tests reveal abnormal liver enzymes, positive results on follow-up tests — and ruling out other diseases — may indicate gallbladder cancer.

How is gallbladder cancer diagnosed?

  • To diagnose gallbladder cancer, doctors first assess your complete medical history in addition to your risk factors and symptoms. You must also undergo a physical exam and one or more of the following tests:

Blood Tests

Blood tests may be performed to detect high bilirubin levels (the cause of jaundice) or other substances in the blood that may signal the presence of cancer. Additional blood tests may also be conducted to detect elevated levels of certain substances known as tumor markers.

Imaging Tests

  • Abdominal ultrasound: The initial imaging test a patient undergoes is usually an ultrasound. This type of test uses high frequency sound waves to create images of the gallbladder. Abdominal ultrasounds require no radiation and are noninvasive.
  • A doctor or ultrasound technician simply moves a wand-like instrument over your abdomen to capture the echoes that bounce off your internal organs. Those echoes are converted into images with the help of specialized computer programs.
  • Endoscopic or laparoscopic ultrasound: These ultrasounds provide more detailed images, as they allow for closer access to the gallbladder. Endoscopic and laparoscopic ultrasounds may be used to assist in removing tissue for a biopsy and determining if cancer has spread. During these procedures, a thin tube fitted with a light at the end is inserted through the mouth and down the throat, or through a small incision in the side of the body.
  • 3D computed CT scan: Using advanced imaging technology and specialized techniques, radiologists at City of Hope can obtain highly clear and precise images of the gallbladder and liver. This allows the care team to better detect and locate tumors they can be targeted with minimal impact on surrounding normal tissues.
  • MRI scan: Similar to CT scans, MRI scans produce detailed images of soft tissues in the body using a powerful magnetic field and radio waves.

Staging Gallbladder Cancer

To properly plan for treatment, gallbladder cancer patients are staged in accordance to how advanced the disease is. This is primarily done by taking a number of factors into consideration, including:

  • Size of the tumor
  • Whether the cancer has grown into or through the multiple tissue layers of the gallbladder
  • If the tumor have grown into a blood vessel or adjacent organs, such as the liver or stomach
  •  Whether the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes and how many lymph nodes are affected
  •  Whether the cancer has metastasized to distant organs
  • If the cancer can be completely removed by surgery

Based on these factors, patients are staged according to their risk level, with higher risk patients typically requiring more intensive treatments. 


  • Abnormal-looking cells are extracted from the gallbladder and checked by a pathologist for cancerous signs.