What Is Bile Duct Cancer?

Bile Duct

The Bile Ducts are a series of thin tubes that collect bile from the liver and gall bladder and pass it to the small intestine. Two Bile Ducts originate from the liver and one comes from the gallbladder, they join to form the common Bile Duct.

Bile Ducts collect this bile, draining it into the gallbladder and finally into the small intestine where it aids in the digestion process.


Bile Duct Cancer

Bile Duct Cancer also known as Cholangiocarcinoma is a rare form of cancer that arises from the cells that line the Bile Ducts . Cholangiocarcinoma occurs when cells in the Bile Ducts develop mutations in their DNA. Due to which, cells may begin to grow out of control and eventually develop into a tumor. Cholangiocarcinoma are most commonly found just outside the liver in the perihilar area. It is a slow-growing cancer that invades local structures, so the diagnosis is often delayed till the Bile Duct gets blocked. This blockade prevents bile drainage from the liver into the gallbladder and intestine. Depending upon where the blockage occurs, this can lead to inflammation of the liver (hepatitis) and/or pancreas (pancreatitis).

Types of Bile Duct Cancer

Bile Duct Cancer can start anywhere along the Bile Ducts . It is classified into different types depending on the location of origin.

Extrahepatic Bile Duct Cancers

The extrahepatic Bile Duct is made up of the hilum region and the distal region. Cancer can form in either region:

Anatomy of Bile Duct Cancer

What are the general symptoms of Bile Duct Cancer?

Bile Duct Cancer is a rare form of cancer and the signs and symptoms are not specific to Bile Duct Cancer only. They may be triggered by some other illness as well. The initial symptoms of Bile Duct Cancer occur mostly because of the blockage that interrupts bile to drain normally from the liver. Unfortunately, Bile Duct tumors may not cause any symptoms until they have grown in size and the cancer has spread beyond its original location. Some of the symptoms of Bile Duct Cancer include:
Bile Duct Cancer is a rare form of Cancer and there is a possibility of encountering these symptoms in many other health problems including gall stones.

What Are The General Causes Of Bile Duct Cancer?

For most cases of Bile Duct Cancer, it is very difficult to trace the exact cause of the disease. However, there are certain factors that are known to have increased the risk. People with long-term swelling or irritation in the Bile Ducts are more likely to get this cancer. People with a bowel disease called ulcerative colitis are also at higher risk. Infection with the liver fluke parasite is also a cause of large number of Bile Duct Cancers. Some other risk factors are discussed below:

Can Bile Duct Cancer Be Prevented?

There is no proven theory to prevent Bile Duct Cancers. As with all diseases that tend to develop at an older age, living a healthy lifestyle may extend one’s lifespan. This includes not smoking, eating a balanced diet, keeping physically active, and maintaining a healthy weight.

Many of the known risk factors for Bile Duct Cancer, such as age, ethnicity, and Bile Duct abnormalities, are beyond our control. However, there are certain factors that could definitely be checked to keep the risk low. Some of them are:

What Are The Stages Of Bile Duct Cancer?

Stage of cancer refers to the severity and spread of cancer cells. Once the specific type of cancer is diagnosed, it is assigned a particular stage ranging from 0 to IV. Stage 0 is also referred as carcinoma in situ. Depending on several factors and based on the stage, most effective treatment is planned.

Stages of Intrahepatic Bile Duct Cancer

Stages of Perihilar Bile Duct Cancer

Stages of Distal extrahepatic Bile Duct Cancer

Survival Rates Of Bile Duct Cancer?


5 year Survival Rate

Localized (Stage I)


Regional Spread (Stage II & III)


Distant Spread (Stage IV)



5 year Survival Rate

Localized (Stage I)


Regional Spread (Stage II & III)


Distant Spread (Stage IV)


Can Bile Duct Cancer Be Detected Early?

Bile Ducts are located deep inside the body, so early tumors can’t be felt during routine physical exams. There are no specific tests that aids in early detection of Bile Duct Cancer. Furthermore, Bile Duct Cancer does not show any early stage symptoms. Hence, most Bile Duct Cancers are found only after the cancer has grown enough to cause signs or symptoms leaving only a small number of Bile Duct Cancers cases that have been detected early.

However, if there is any reason to suspect Bile Duct Cancer, complete medical history is checked for risk factors and symptoms.

Several tests may be needed to help diagnose Bile Duct Cancer. Most common tests are:

What Are The Treatments Available?

Treatment for Bile Duct Cancer depends upon where the cancer is located and whether it is possible for it to be completely removed by surgery. Unfortunately, those afflicted with this cancer tend to be older and may be unable to tolerate and recover from a major operation.

Is There Curative Treatment For Bile Duct Cancer?

Bile Duct Cancer is mostly detected at a later stage when the cancer cell spreads and interrupts the normal functionality of the organs. Thus, making it very difficult to control and cure the cancer cells.

However, today there are several treatment options that can help control the symptoms for months or possibly years.

How Frequently Should One Visit Doctor For Early Diagnosis?

If there is any reason to suspect the occurrence of Bile Duct Cancer, consulting the doctor to get clarity is important. Also, if one is prone to the mentioned risk factors then regular blood tests and lab tests can aid in early detection of the disease thereby facilitating curative treatment.

How Can I As A Patient Know It Early?

Being aware of the symptoms, and any health issue that might indicate the presence of the disease needs to be examined thoroughly. Also, a few lab tests and regular tests can also sometime unveil the presence of the hideous disease.