Side Effects of Radiotherapy in the Treatment of Gallbladder Cancer

Gallbladder cancer as the name suggests, begins in the gallbladder, an organ that stores a substance called bile. To read about gallbladder and gallbladder cancer, click here

3D representation of a gallbladder with cancer

What is radiotherapy?

Radiation therapy uses high energy X rays to treat the cancer. It aims at killing the malignant cells and shrinking the tumours. Radiation therapy for gallbladder cancer alone is not very successful. It is often combined with other treatments for better results. Read more about radiotherapy for gallbladder cancer treatment here

Side effects of radiotherapy in gallbladder cancer:

In this procedure, the healthy cells are also damaged because of which the patients experience side effects. The following are the side effects of radiation therapy in the treatment of gallbladder cancer:


Patients experience extreme tiredness during and after exposure to such high radiation. This can last up to several weeks after the treatment as well.

Skin reactions:

Radiation causes skin peeling, itching and blistering. In the areas of treatment and the other side of the body where the treatment is given, the skin might turn dark or red. These areas might even feel sore. This soreness may last up to two to four weeks post treatment.


Radiation therapy for gallbladder cancer can cause inflammation in the lining of the bowels which causes diarrhoea. This may even lead to cramps and abnormal stools.

Nausea and vomiting:

When radiation is given to the gallbladder, the effect of the radiation is also seen on the surrounding organs like the stomach and the intestines. This causes disturbances in the digestion which might lead to vomiting and weakness.

Problems with eating and drinking:

When radiation is given to metastasized gallbladder cancer, patients often experience heartburns and indigestion due to which they experience problems in having their regular diet.

Weight loss:

Loss of appetite during or after treatment causes severe weight loss in the patients, especially when radiation for gallbladder cancer is given in combination with other treatments.

Abnormalities in blood cell count:

High dosage of radiation can lower the blood cell count in the body. The damage of healthy blood cells during the treatment can cause an abnormality in the blood cells count which can lead to the following:

  • Anemia: Lowered red blood cells cause severe weakness in the body.
  • Infections: Lower white blood cell count makes the patient prone to infections.
  • Bleeding: Lowered platelet count can cause difficulties in blood clotting.

Renal failure:

When radiation is given to treat metastasized gallbladder cancer, it might have an effect on the kidneys as well and can cause a renal failure which is a condition where the kidney’s ability to filter water out of the body is minimized. This might even affect the urinary bladder.

Heart problems:

Radiation given to any part of the body can cause disturbances in the blood pressure and heart rhythm, which can lead to heart problems in the long run.

Hair loss:

Radiation therapy has an impact on the hair follicles also. Since they are very sensitive, this treatment can cause severe hair loss.

Liver damage:

When radiation is given to the gallbladder, the liver is affected which can cause disturbances in the functioning of the liver.

Most of the side effects go away within one to two weeks post treatment. But the patients have to cope-up with the long term side effects for the rest of their life. In order to reduce the impact of the above side effects on the body, the patients have to follow a strict and a monitored follow up plan after the treatment.

After treatment:

Post treatment care is very important for any disease or treatment, even more so for conditions that can be terminal or have major side effects. Read more about the treatment outcome and post treatment care for gallbladder cancer here

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