Treatment of Bile Duct Cancer (Cholangiocarcinoma)

Information from the National Cancer Institute

What is bile duct cancer?

Bile duct cancer is a rare disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the bile ducts. Bile duct cancer is also called cholangiocarcinoma. There are two types of bile duct cancer:

  • Intrahepatic bile duct cancer: This type of cancer forms in the bile ducts inside the liver. Only a small number of bile duct cancers are intrahepatic. Intrahepatic bile duct cancers are also called intrahepatic cholangiocarcinomas.
  • Extrahepatic bile duct cancer: This type of cancer forms in the bile ducts outside the liver. The extrahepatic bile duct is made up of the hilum region and the distal region. Cancer can form in either region:
    • Perihilar bile duct cancer: This type of cancer is found in the hilum region, the area where the right and left bile ducts exit the liver and join to form the common hepatic duct. Perihilar bile duct cancer is also called a Klatskin tumor or perihilar cholangiocarcinoma.
    • Distal bile duct cancer: This type of cancer is found in the distal region. The distal region is made up of the common bile duct which passes through the pancreas and ends in the small intestine. Distal bile duct cancer is also called extrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma.

What are risk factors for bile duct cancer?

Risk factors for bile duct cancer include the following conditions:

  • Primary sclerosing cholangitis (a progressive disease in which the bile ducts become blocked by inflammation and scarring).
  • Chronic ulcerative colitis.
  • Cysts in the bile ducts (cysts block the flow of bile and can cause swollen bile ducts, inflammation, and infection).
  • Infection with a Chinese liver fluke parasite.

What are signs and symptoms of bile duct cancer?

Signs of bile duct cancer include:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes)
  • Dark urine
  • Clay colored stool
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Fever
  • Itchy skin
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weight loss for unknown reason

What is the treatment for bile duct cancer?

Treatment for bile duct cancer can include surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. New treatments are being tested in clinical trials including liver transplant, targeted therapy and immunotherapy.

Learn More: NCI

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