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 and Delivery of High Quality Cancer Care in Essex"
NHS Essex Cancer Network

Bile Duct Cancer

About

Cancer of the bile duct (cholangiocarcinoma) is a rare type of cancer that mainly affects adults aged over 65.

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 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.

This page covers:

Symptoms

Causes

Tests

Treatments

Outlook

Symptoms of bile duct cancer

There aren't usually any symptoms of bile duct cancer until it grows large enough to block the bile ducts.

This can cause:

  • yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  • itchy skin
  • pale stools and dark urine
  • loss of appetite and weight loss 
  • persistent tiredness and feeling unwell
  • tummy (abdominal) pain and swelling – some people feel a dull ache in the upper right hand side of their tummy
  • high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above
  • chills and shivering

See your GP if you have persistent symptoms that you're worried about – particularly if you have jaundice. These symptoms can have a number of causes, so it's important to get a proper diagnosis.

Causes of bile duct cancer

The exact cause of bile duct cancer is unknown. Most occur without a clear cause, although some things can increase your risk of getting it.

These include:

  • primary sclerosing cholangitis – a rare type of liver disease that causes long-term inflammation of the liver
  • bile duct abnormalities – such as cysts (fluid-filled sacs) in the bile ducts that are present from birth
  • biliary stones within the liver – hard stones, similar to gallstones, that form in the bile duct
  • infection with a liver fluke parasite (mostly a problem in Asia)
  • exposure to certain chemicals and toxins, including thorotrast (a special dye that used to be used in medical scans)

There may also be a link with long-term hepatitis B and hepatitis C infections, liver scarring (cirrhosis), diabetes, obesity, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.

Tests for bile duct cancer

Several tests may be needed to help diagnose bile duct cancer. These will usually be carried out in hospital.

Tests you may have include: 

Read more about how bile duct cancer is diagnosed.

Treatments for bile duct cancer

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

Read more about how bile duct cancer is treated.  

Outlook for bile duct cancer

The outlook for bile duct cancer depends on which part of the bile duct is affected and how far the cancer has grown.

Even if it's possible to remove the cancer, there's a chance it could come back later. 

Overall:

  • one in every two to five people (20-50%) will live at least five years if bile duct cancer is caught early on and surgery is carried out to try to remove it
  • one in every 50 people (2%) will live at least five years if it's caught at a later stage and surgery to remove it isn't possible

Cancer Research UK has more information about survival statistics for bile duct cancer.

Further Information on bile duct cancer

Information Prescription Service

To access the Information Prescription Service and the national cancer information pathway please click below and select 'Specialist information from our charity partners'

www.nhs.uk

Cancer Research UK Website

www.cancerresearchuk.org

 

Macmillan Cancer Support Website

www.macmillan.org.uk

Further Information

Visit or phone a local cancer information centre

There are several cancer information and support centres in Essex Cancer Network where anyone affected by cancer can be sure of a warm welcome and high quality, accurate, evidence-based information:

Basildon Hospital Macmillan Info and Support Centre, Outpatients Dept, Basildon Hospital, staffed Monday 2pm - Friday 12.30pm,tel: 0845 155 3111 extension 4908

Macmillan Info and Support Centre,Essex County Hospital, Outpatients Dept, Monday - Friday office hours, tel: 01206 747474

Information Resource Service, St Luke's House, Corringham,Thurrock, Monday to Friday office hours, tel: 01375 648170

Lantern Suite, Farleigh Hospice,Chelmsford, Monday to Friday office hours, tel: 01245 457418

Hospice Outreach Project Information Bus, Farleigh Hospice, covers the Chelmsford area. Contact Farleigh Hospice as above

For more information, please contact the service direct.

 

Visit your local library in Essex Cancer Network

Essex, Southend and Thurrock library services have worked in partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support and the Essex Cancer Network to establish collections of quality assured information books and pamphlets about cancer. These can be accessed at any library: just ask. Additionally some staff at libraries have been trained to help patients use the Information Prescription Service.

Contact Macmillan Cancer Support Helplines

If you have any questions about cancer, need support or just someone to talk to, call free, Monday to Friday 9am - 8pm (interpretation service available) tel: 0808 808 0000

For financial queries tel: 0808 808 2232

 

Remember: Stay safe online when looking for support!

Internet chat rooms and message forums can be valuable sources of support and comfort, enabling you to meet others in the same position. However, there is potential for abuse - please read these guidelines before you set off to explore...

Click here to download the draft guidelines

 

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