About Bile Duct Cancer

The bile duct is a tube that allows the flow of bile produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder to the small intestine for digestion. When the bile duct cells grow uncontrollably, it results in bile duct cancer or cholangiocarcinoma. 


Based on the location of the tumour, bile duct cancer can be of the following types:

  • Extrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma
  • Hilar cholangiocarcinoma
  • Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma


Bile duct cancer life expectancy depends upon several factors, especially the cancer stage at the time of diagnosis. Common symptoms of bile duct cancer are:

  • Jaundice
  • Itchy skin
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal pain


When is Surgery Performed for Bile Duct Cancer?

Surgery is the primary treatment for bile duct cancers and offers a high chance of cure. However, the location of cancer can make bile duct cancer challenging to treat. There are two types of surgeries for bile duct cancers:


  • Potentially curative surgery (for resectable and unresectable)
  • Palliative surgery


A tiny percentage of bile duct cancers are resectable when they are found. The type of surgery performed for resectable bile duct cancers depends upon where it is:


  • Intrahepatic bile duct cancer

This cancer starts in the bile ducts, and the surgeon may be able to remove it with some surrounding tissue. This type of surgery is called liver resection or hepatectomy.


  • Perihilar bile duct cancer

The perihilar bile duct cancer begins outside the liver. Depending on how big the tumour is, the surgeon may remove:

  • Extrahepatic bile ducts (located outside the liver)
  • Some parts of the liver
  • Gallbladder
  • Nearby affected lymph nodes

  • Distal extrahepatic bile duct cancer

The distal extrahepatic bile duct is located near the pancreas and small intestine. If cancer begins in this bile duct, surgery may involve the removal of:

  • Extrahepatic bile ducts
  • Nearby lymph nodes
  • Part of the pancreas and the duodenum


You may require adjuvant therapy after surgery if the risk of cancer recurrence is high. Capecitabine is a chemotherapy drug commonly prescribed for around six months in people who have had bile duct cancer surgery.


Biliary bypass and stent placement may be performed in people with advanced bile duct cancer. 


The risk and side effects of surgery for bile duct cancer depend upon several factors, especially how well the liver works. Your doctor and multidisciplinary healthcare team will discuss what to expect after surgery.

Who is an Ideal Candidate for Bile Duct Cancer Surgery?

Though surgery is the first line of treatment for most bile duct cancers, it is not recommended for everyone. Less than 30% of people with bile duct cancer can have surgery to remove the cancer. This is primarily because most people are diagnosed when the cancer is in its advanced stages. Your doctor and healthcare team will evaluate your diagnostic test results and determine if your bile duct requires surgery.


Bile Duct Cancer Surgery Cost in the UK

The cost of bile duct cancer surgery depends upon the type of surgery performed. Most bile duct cancer surgeries are traditional, with very few being laparoscopic. Surgery costs are more affordable for people with early-stage bile duct cancer than those with advanced stages of the disease. The cost of hospital stay and post-surgery follow-up gets added to the surgical cost. For most people, adjuvant therapy costs follow surgical costs during bile duct cancer treatment. 


Other Treatments for Bile Duct Cancer

If you have bile duct cancer, your oncologist and healthcare team will discuss your treatment plan based on the disease stage, the spread, and your overall health and fitness.


Apart from surgery, other treatment options for treating this cancer are:

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