Bile Duct Cancer (Cholangiocarcinoma)

  • Medical Author:
    Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

    Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Cancer 101: Cancer Explained

What is the treatment for bile duct cancer?

Treatment for bile duct cancer depends upon where the cancer is located and whether it is possible for it to be completely removed by surgery. Unfortunately, those afflicted with this cancer tend to be older and may be unable to tolerate and recover from a significant operation. The decision regarding surgery needs to be individualized for the specific patient and their situation.

Other treatment options tend to be palliative, not curative, and are meant to preserve quality of life. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy have their place. Photodynamic therapy is another alternative to help shrink the tumor and control symptoms.

ERCP may be used to stent the bile duct, keeping it open to allow bile drainage from the liver and gallbladder into the intestine. This is often very helpful in controlling symptoms but does not treat the tumor itself.

As with all cancers, the treatment is individualized for the patient. Discussion between the patient, health care professional, and family are important to help understand treatment options, including cure versus palliation or symptom control and quality of life. The patient's wishes are key.

What is the prognosis for bile duct cancer? What is the life expectancy for bile duct cancer?

How well a patient does after the diagnosis of bile duct cancer depends upon many factors, including where the tumor is located, if and how much it has spread, and the patient's underlying general health. Patients have a better prognosis the farther away from the liver hilum the tumor is located, and according to certain aspects of shape and cell type within the tumor. Prognosis is worse for those patients whose tumor has invaded adjacent tissues, has lymph node involvement, or has spread to distant places in the body.

If untreated, bile duct cancer survival is 50% at 1 year, 20% at 2 years and 10% at 3 years with virtually no survival at 5 years.

Being able to completely remove the tumor increases survival but this mostly depends upon the location of the tumor and whether it has invaded other tissues.

Intrahepatic (Within the Liver) Bile Duct Cancer
Stage5-Year Relative Survival
Localized (Stage 1)15%
Regional spread (Stage 2, 3)6%
Distant spread (Stage 4)2%

Extrahepatic (Outside the Liver) Bile Duct Cancer
Stage5-Year Relative Survival
Localized (Stage 1)30%
Regional spread (Stage 2, 3)24%
Distant spread (Stage 4)2%
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/1/2015

Subscribe to MedicineNet's Cancer Report Newsletter

By clicking Submit, I agree to the MedicineNet's Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of MedicineNet's subscriptions at any time.

  • Bile Duct Cancer - Treatment

    What kind of treatment did you have for bile duct cancer?

    Post View 5 Comments
  • Bile Duct Cancer - Symptoms

    What symptoms did you have when you were diagnosed with bile duct cancer?

    Post View 3 Comments
  • Bile Duct Cancer - Stage

    What stage is your bile duct cancer?

    Post View 4 Comments

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors