Gallbladder Cancer: Stages

October 31, 2017

Gallbladder Cancer: Stages 

What does stage of cancer mean?

The stage of a cancer is how much and how far the cancer has spread in your body. Your healthcare provider uses exams and tests to find out the size of the cancer and where it is. He or she can also see if the cancer has grown into nearby areas, and if it has spread to other parts of your body. The stage of a cancer is one of the most important things to know when deciding how to treat the cancer. 

The system of staging

Doctors use different rating systems to stage cancer. The system used most often to stage gallbladder cancer is the TNM system. The TNM system is:

  • T stands for tumor. This category notes details about the tumor itself. It notes if the tumor has grown outside of the gallbladder into nearby organs.

  • N stands for nodes. Lymph nodes are small organs around the body. They help the body fight infections. This category notes if cancer cells have spread to the nearby lymph nodes.

  • M stands for metastasis. This category notes if the cancer has spread to distant lymph nodes, organs, or bones.

What are the stages of bile duct cancer?

Once your T, N, and M categories have been determined, your doctor puts them together in a process called stage grouping. This is used to determine your overall cancer stage. Stage grouping is done with Roman numerals going from 0 (earliest stage) to IV (most advanced stage). The lower the number, the less the cancer has spread. The higher the number, the more the cancer has spread.

Other types of staging

Some doctors may also use other staging systems. One system put gallbladder cancer into 3 categories:

  • Localized. This means that all the cancer can be removed by surgery.

  • Unresectable. This means that not all the cancer can be removed with surgery. This is often because the cancer has spread to other tissues or organs around the gallbladder. These may include the lymph nodes, liver, pancreas, or intestines.

  • Metastatic. This means the cancer has spread beyond the gallbladder and/or nearby lymph nodes to other organs in the body.

  • Recurrent. This means the cancer has come back after treatment.

Talking with your healthcare provider

When your cancer is staged, your healthcare provider will talk with you about what the stage means for your treatment. Make sure to ask any questions or talk about your concerns.


October 31, 2017


TNM Staging of gallbladder cancer, Up To Date

Reviewed By:  

LoCicero, Richard, MD,Stump-Sutliff, Kim, RN, MSN, AOCNS