What’s New in Gallbladder Cancer Research and Treatment?

Research into the causes, diagnosis, and treatment of gallbladder cancer is under way in many medical centers throughout the world.

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy

Researchers are looking at new ways of increasing the effectiveness of radiation therapy. With newer techniques such as 3-dimensional conformal radiation therapy (3D-CRT), intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), and proton beam radiation therapy, doctors can better aim radiation to affect only the tumor and to spare nearby normal tissues. Doctors have also found that giving certain chemotherapy drugs just before radiation therapy may make it more effective.

In general, chemotherapy (chemo) has been found to be of limited use against gallbladder cancer, but newer drugs and combinations of drugs are now being tested.

Targeted therapy

Newer drugs are being developed that work in different ways from standard chemo drugs. These drugs target specific parts of cancer cells or their surrounding environments. Many of these newer drugs target cells with specific gene changes. As noted in “ Do we know what causes gallbladder cancer?”, researchers now know some of the gene changes commonly found in gallbladder cancer cells. Knowing which genes are abnormal could help doctors determine which of these new drugs might be effective.

One target of several newer drugs is tumor blood vessels. Gallbladder tumors need new blood vessels to grow beyond a certain size. Bevacizumab (Avastin®) and pazopanib (Votrient®) are examples of drugs that target blood vessel growth and are being studied against gallbladder cancer.

Other new drugs have different targets. For example, EGFR is a protein found in high amounts on some cancer cells that helps them grow. Drugs that target EGFR have shown some benefit against several types of cancer. Some of these, such as cetuximab (Erbitux®) and lapatinib (Tykerb®), are now being studied for use in people with gallbladder cancer, usually in combination with chemotherapy or other targeted drugs.

Drugs known as MEK inhibitors, such as trametinib (Mekinist®) and selumetinib, are also being studied for use against gallbladder cancer.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: October 29, 2014 Last Revised: February 5, 2016

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