Bile duct cancer – Types, Symptoms, Causes, Risk Factors, and More

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Bile duct cancer – an Overview

Bile duct cancer is a rare and often fatal cancer that affects the bile ducts.

Bile is a digestive liquid that travels through a network of tubes called the bile ducts from your liver to your gallbladder. Bile is sent to the gut via ducts from the gallbladder, where it aids in the digestion of dietary lipids.

Tumours that develop outside of your liver tend to form a bile duct cancer that could be either small or large.

Bile duct cancer typically develops outside the liver. In rare cases, the malignancy may form in hepatic ducts.

Types of bile duct cancer

They are two types of bile duct cancer:

  • Intrahepatic bile duct cancer
  • Extrahepatic bile duct cancer

Intrahepatic bile duct cancer

This kind of cancer develops in the liver’s bile ducts. Also, Intrahepatic bile duct tumours are quite uncommon.

Extrahepatic bile duct cancer

This type of cancer develops outside the liver in the bile ducts.

What are the symptoms of bile duct cancer?

Depending on where the tumour is present, the symptoms could include any of the following:

The most typical symptom of bile duct cancer is Jaundice (yellowing of the skin). Depending on the tumour’s location, this may appear at an early or late stage.

  • Dark urine and pale stools  
  • Itching due to cancer or jaundice
  • Persistent pain in the abdomen  
  • Enlargement of liver, spleen or gallbladder

Apart from the above symptoms, you may also have more general symptoms, such as Chills, fever, loss of appetite, weight loss and fatigue.

What causes bile duct cancer?

Though the causes of bile duct cancer are not fully understood, it is believed that chronic parasite infections and bile duct inflammation may play a significant role. However, the following are said to be the main reason for the cause of bile duct cancer.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is one of the leading causes of liver cancer. Additionally, it is associated with non- Hodgkin’s lymphoma, bile duct cancer and pancreatic cancers.


According to some sources, Diabetes and high blood pressure are two main factors contributing to bile duct cancer.


The risk of gallbladder and bile duct malignancies can rise if a person is overweight or obese. This may be so because obesity raises the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, gallstones, and bile duct stones.


Besides gallbladder cancer, smoking increases the risk of all biliary system malignancies. Cancer of the intrahepatic bile duct may be due to the consumption of alcohol.  

Risk factors of bile duct cancer

Men above 60 years are more likely to develop bile duct cancer. Certain conditions can elevate the risk for this type of cancer, including liver fluke, bile duct infections, ulcerative colitis, exposure to chemicals and rare diseases, such as primary sclerosing cholangitis and hepatitis.

How is bile duct cancer diagnosed?

Bile duct cancer can be diagnosed in the following ways.

Blood tests

Your doctor will examine you physically and might take blood for the blood tests. Blood tests can be done to detect the presence of tumour markers and assess how well your liver works. People with bile duct cancer may see an increase in tumour marker levels.

Imaging scans

You could also require imaging tests like an ultrasound, CT, or MRI scan. These images of your bile ducts and surroundings may show the presence of cancer tumours.

An image-assisted biopsy is a procedure in which your surgeon removes a tissue sample while guided by imaging scans.

Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)

It is occasionally necessary to do an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP). The surgeon inserts a long tube with a camera during ERCP into the opening of your bile ducts in your gut.

The bile ducts may be injected with dye by your surgeon. This aids in the ducts’ X-ray visibility, making any obstructions visible.

Endoscopic ultrasound scan

In some circumstances, they will also insert a probe near your bile ducts that take ultrasound images. It’s referred to as an endoscopic ultrasound scan.

Percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography (PTC)

In the percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography (PTC) test, your doctor takes X-rays after injecting dye into your liver and bile ducts. In this case, they inject the dye straight into your liver through the skin of your abdomen.

How is bile duct cancer treated?

Many treatments for bile duct cancer are available depending on where and how big the tumour is.

Surgery is the only alternative that promises a cure, mainly if your cancer was detected early and hasn’t moved past your liver or bile ducts. You might only need to have the ducts removed if the tumour is still contained within the bile ducts.

Your liver may need to be partially or entirely removed if cancer has entered it from the ducts. You will require a liver transplant if your complete liver needs to be removed.

A Whipple procedure may be necessary if your cancer has invaded nearby organs. In this procedure, your surgeon removes:

  • the bile ducts
  • the gallbladder
  • the pancreas
  • sections of your stomach and gut

You can undergo surgery to correct the blocked bile ducts and alleviate some of your symptoms, even if your cancer cannot be treated. Usually, the surgeon either makes a bypass or inserts a tube to keep the duct open. Jaundice may be treated with this method. Surgery is another option for treating a blocked portion of the gut.

Following your operation, you might require chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Summing up

If your tumour can be entirely removed, there is a chance that you may recover from bile duct cancer. Your prognosis is typically better if the tumour is not in your liver.

Many patients are not eligible for surgery that involves removing all or part of the liver or bile duct in order to remove the tumour.  


What is the life expectancy of bile duct cancer?

The survival rate for intrahepatic bile duct cancer is 9%. The survival rate is 25% if the cancer is diagnosed early. If cancer has spread to the regional lymph nodes, the survival rate drops to 8%.

What are the signs of cancer of the bile duct?

The following are the signs of bile duct cancer.
1 · loss of appetite  
2 · losing weight without control
3 · feeling tired or having no energy
4 · a high temperature

How severe is bile duct cancer?

Bile duct cancer is harmful. Fewer than 10% of patients survive five years after diagnosis. Survival is even lower for patients diagnosed at a metastatic stage.

Can you beat bile duct cancer?

Yes, with the aid of surgery, it is possible to beat bile duct cancer.


The Information including but not limited to text, graphics, images and other material contained on this blog are intended for education and awareness only. No material on this blog is intended to be a substitute for professional medical help including diagnosis or treatment. It is always advisable to consult medical professional before relying on the content. Neither the Author nor Star Health and Allied Insurance Co. Ltd accepts any responsibility for any potential risk to any visitor/reader.

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