What Is Bile Duct Cancer?
Bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma) is a rare disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the bile ducts, the network of tubes connecting the liver, gallbladder, and small intestine.
Signs and Symptoms
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes)
- Dark urine
- Clay colored stool
- Pain in the abdomen
- Itchy skin
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weight loss for an unknown reason
- Physical exam and health history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health including checking for signs of disease such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual.
- Liver function tests: A procedure in which providers check a blood sample to measure the amounts of bilirubin and alkaline phosphatase released into the blood by the liver.
- Laboratory tests: Medical procedures that test samples of tissue, blood, urine, or other substances in the body.
- Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) and CA 19-9 tumor marker tests: A procedure in which a sample of blood, urine, or tissue is checked to measure the amounts of certain substances made by organs, tissues, or tumor cells in the body.
- Ultrasound exam: A procedure in which high energy sound waves (ultrasound) are bounced off internal tissues or organs such as the abdomen to create a picture of body tissues called a sonogram.
- CT scan (CAT scan): A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body such as the abdomen that are taken from different angles.
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): A procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body.
- MRCP (magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography): A procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body such as the liver, bile ducts, gallbladder, pancreas, and pancreatic duct.
- Biopsy – A procedure that removes cells and tissues so they can be viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer.
The prognosis and treatment options depend on the following:
- Whether the cancer is in the upper or lower part of the bile duct system
- The stage of the cancer - whether it affects only the bile ducts or has spread to the liver, lymph nodes, or other places in the body
- Whether the cancer has spread to nearby nerves or veins
- Whether the cancer can be completely removed by surgery
- Whether the patient has other conditions such as primary sclerosing cholangitis
- Whether the level of CA 19 9 is higher than normal
- Whether the cancer has just been diagnosed or has recurred (come back)
Stages of Bile Duct Cancer
- See our booklet for more information
- Radiation therapy
New Treatments Being Tested in Clinical Trials
- Liver transplant
- Targeted therapy
See our booklet for comprehensive information about Bile Duct Cancer.
This content was last medically reviewed in May 2022 by Sharlotte Manley, MSN, FNP, Erlanger Gastroenterology.