Bile duct cancer

Bile ducts are part of the digestive system and are the tubes that link the liver and gallbladder to the small bowel. Bile duct cancer is rare. You’re more likely to get it if you’re aged over 65.

 

What is bile duct cancer

Bile ducts transport bile, which helps break down the fat in our food. Bile duct cancer develops in part of the bile duct lining, when abnormal cells start to multiply. They can spread into other areas including the gallbladder or pancreas.

Cancer can begin in any part of the ducts including:

    • Intra-hepatic region: ducts inside the liver
    • Extra-hepatic region: ducts outside the liver

Extra-hepatic bile ducts are split into two areas:

    • Hilar – where the right and left ducts meet, below the liver
    • Distal – the lower section of the ducts, near the bowel

Causes of bile duct cancer

Doctors don’t yet know what causes bile duct cancer, but some things can make it more likely. These include:

    • Abnormal bile ducts
    • Bile duct stones
    • Hepatitis B or C
    • Infection with a parasite called liver fluke (most common in Africa and Asia)
    • Liver disease (cirrhosis)
    • Long-term inflammatory conditions such as ulcerative colitis or primary sclerosing cholangitis

Symptoms of bile duct cancer

In its early stages, you may not have any symptoms. As the cancer develops, you may have:

Dark urine and pale stools

Extreme tiredess

High temperature (fever)

Itchy skin

Jaundice (skin and whites of eyes becoming yellow)

Loss of appetite

Pain in your abdomen

Unexplained weight loss

Having these symptoms doesn’t mean you have bile duct cancer, but it’s best to get them checked by a doctor. The sooner your cancer is detected, the better the chances of treating it successfully.

Tests and diagnosis

Your doctor will discuss your symptoms with you. You may be referred to hospital for further tests including:

  • Biopsy – where a tiny sample of tissue is taken for analysis
  • Blood tests
  • Scans including ultrasound, CT and MRI
  • X-rays
  • Endoscopy (camera tests)

Treatments we offer

Bile duct cancers are difficult to treat and your specialist doctor (oncologist) will discuss the treatment options with you. Possible treatments include surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
 
 

Radiotherapy kills cancer cells. It’s used in the early stages of cancer treatment or after it has started to spread. It can also be used to relieve pain and discomfort from cancer that has spread.

Read more

Chemotherapy is medication that treats your cancer. The drugs kill cancer cells, preventing them from dividing and spreading further.

Read more

Radiotherapy kills cancer cells. It’s used in the early stages of cancer treatment or after it has started to spread. It can also be used to relieve pain and discomfort from cancer that has spread.

Read more

Chemotherapy is medication that treats your cancer. The drugs kill cancer cells, preventing them from dividing and spreading further.

Read more

Meet our doctors

Everything we do is focused on designing better care for our patients. With a network of 12 specialist oncology treatment centres across the UK, we provide the most up-to-date treatments and technology as standard.

We attract and retain some of the most experienced doctors in the country, who all have a passion for improving patient outcomes and specialise in the treatment of different types of cancer.

Meet our doctors

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