What is bile duct cancer?
Bile ducts are small tubes that connect the liver and small intestine. They allow fluid called bile to flow from the liver, through the pancreas, to the gut, where it helps with digestion. Cancer can affect any part of these ducts.
Bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma) can sometimes be cured if caught very early on, but it’s not usually picked up until a later stage, when a cure isn’t possible.
How common is bile duct cancer?
Cancer of the bile duct is a rare type of cancer that mainly affects adults aged over 65. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of bile duct cancer?
The common symptoms of bile duct cancer are:
- Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
- Intensely itchy skin
- White-colored stools
- Abdominal pain
- Unintended weight loss
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:
- Persistent fatigue
- Abdominal pain
- Other signs and symptoms that bother you
What causes bile duct cancer?
Cholangiocarcinoma occurs when cells in the bile ducts develop changes (mutations) in their DNA — the material that provides instructions for every chemical process in your body. DNA mutations cause changes in the instructions. One result is that cells may begin to grow out of control and eventually form a tumor — a mass of cancerous cells. It’s not clear what causes the genetic mutations that lead to cancer.
What increases my risk for bile duct cancer?
There are many risk factors for bile duct cancer, such as:
- Primary sclerosing cholangitis. This disease causes hardening and scarring of the bile ducts.
- Chronic liver disease. Scarring of the liver caused by a history of chronic liver disease increases the risk of cholangiocarcinoma.
- Bile duct problems present at birth. People born with a choledochal cyst, which causes dilated and irregular bile ducts, have an increased risk of cholangiocarcinoma.
- A liver parasite. In areas of Southeast Asia, cholangiocarcinoma is associated with liver fluke infection, which can occur from eating raw or undercooked fish.
- Older age. Cholangiocarcinoma occurs most often in adults over age 50.
- Smoking. Smoking is associated with an increased risk of cholangiocarcinoma.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is bile duct cancer diagnosed?
Several tests may be needed to help diagnose bile duct cancer. These will usually be carried out in hospital.
Tests you may have include:
- Blood tests to check for signs of cancer or a problem with your liver
- Scans, such as an ultrasound scan, computerised tomography (ct) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (mri) scan
- Detailed x-rays taken after a special dye has been injected into your bile ducts to make them show up more clearly
- A biopsy – where a small sample of tissue is removed so it can be looked at under a microscope for signs of cancer
How is bile duct cancer treated?
It’s not usually possible to cure bile duct cancer because it’s often only diagnosed after it has grown and spread.
But even in these cases, treatment can help control the symptoms for months or possibly years.
The main treatments for bile duct cancer are:
- Surgery to remove the affected area – this is only suitable for a small number of people, but could get rid of the cancer completely
- Inserting a hollow tube (stent) into the bile duct to stop it becoming blocked – this can help relieve symptoms such as jaundice
- Chemotherapy – where medication is given to stop the cancer cells growing and to relieve your symptoms
- Radiotherapy – where a beam of radiation is carefully aimed at the cancer cells to stop them growing and to relieve your symptoms
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage bile duct cancer?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with bile duct cancer:
- Learn what you need to know about your cancer. Ask your doctor about your cancer, including the type and stage of your cancer, your treatment options and, if you like, your prognosis. As you learn more about cholangiocarcinoma, you may become more confident in making treatment decisions. Ask about trusted sources of further information.
- Keep friends and family close. Keeping your close relationships strong will help you deal with your cancer. Friends and family can provide the practical support you’ll need, such as helping take care of your house if you’re in the hospital. And they can serve as emotional support when you feel overwhelmed.
- Find someone to talk with. Although friends and family can be your best allies, in some cases they have difficulty coping with the shock of your diagnosis. In these cases, talking with a counselor, medical social worker, or a pastoral or religious counselor can be helpful. Ask your doctor for a referral.
- Connect with other cancer survivors. You may find comfort in talking with other cancer survivors. Contact your local chapter of the American Cancer Society to find cancer support groups in your area.
- Make plans for the unknown. Having a life-threatening illness, such as cancer, requires you to prepare for the possibility that you may die. For some people, having a strong faith or a sense of something greater than themselves makes it easier to come to terms with a life-threatening illness.
- Ask your doctor about advance directives and living wills to help you plan for end-of-life care, should you need it.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer). http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cholangiocarcinoma/home/ovc-20202771. Accessed August 10, 2017.
Bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma). http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Cancer-of-the-bile-duct/Pages/Introduction.aspx. Accessed August 10, 2017.
Review Date: August 10, 2017 | Last Modified: September 13, 2019