Cancer of the bile ducts is also known as biliary cancer, and affects the biliary system, which is made up of a series of tubes that begin in the liver and end in the small intestine, and are used to carry bile through the body to break down fatty foods. Bile duct cancer occurs when the genetic material of cells in the bile ducts become damaged or changed, producing mutations that affect normal cell growth and division. The abnormal cells then replicate, causing cancer. If undetected, the cancer can spread beyond the biliary system and move to other parts of the body.

Bile duct cancer is rare and the precise causes of biliary cancer are not known.

Symptoms of bile duct cancer

Bile duct cancer often doesn’t display any symptoms until it has progressed to a later stage, but the most common obvious symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • No appetite
  • Jaundice, which is the yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes
  • High temperatures
  • Weight loss
  • Dark coloured urine
  • Clay coloured stools

If any of these symptoms apply to you or if you have any concerns about similar symptoms, see your doctor.

Treatment of bile duct cancer

The treatment of bile duct cancer depends on the stage of the cancer, and treatment is tailored to each individual patient. Patients with bile duct cancer are treated by a multidisciplinary team of specialists. This team creates a treatment plan to suit the individual needs of the patient.

Treatment options involve:

  • Surgery to remove the affected area
  • Radiotherapy, where high-energy rays are used to destroy the cancer cells
  • Chemotherapy involves the use of chemical agents which are toxic to cancer cells, destroying them and preventing them from spreading to different areas
  • Biotherapy is the use of newer and more targeted therapies to assist the body in fighting the disease