Bile Duct Cancer

What is Bile Duct Cancer?

Bile duct cancer, also known as cholangiocarcinoma, develops in the tubes called bile ducts that connect the liver and the gall bladder. The bile ducts are responsible for carrying the digestive liquid bile which is a waste product of the liver. The cancer usually causes narrowing of the bile ducts and disturbs their function.

Bile duct cancer can be of the following types:

  • Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma: It develops in the parts of the bile ducts inside the liver. 

  • Hilar cholangiocarcinoma: It develops in the bile ducts that are situated right outside of the liver.

  • Distal cholangiocarcinoma: It develops in the part of the bile duct that is close to the small intestine.


The symptoms of bile duct cancer include:

  • Jaundice
  • Irritation on the skin
  • Pale stools
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Pain in the abdomen area
  • Unusual weight loss


Bile duct cancer develops when the bile duct cells go through certain genetic changes called mutations. These mutated cells combine and form a cancerous tumour. The cause of these genetic mutations in still unclear.


The following factors increase the risk of bile duct cancer in people:

  • Primary sclerosing cholangitis: The disease makes the bile ducts hard and causes severe damage which might lead to bile duct cancer.
  • Chronic liver disease: Patients who have suffered from chronic liver diseases are at a higher risk of developing bile duct cancer.
  • Problems in bile duct since birth: People who are born with choledochal cysts are at a higher risk of developing bile duct cancer.
  • Age: The risk of developing bile duct cancer increases with age.
  • Smoking: People who smoke are more vulnerable to liver problems and hence have a higher probability of having bile duct cancer.


Bile duct cancer can be prevented by getting a vaccination for hepatitis B virus, taking precautions to avoid blood-borne or sexually transmitted infections, treating hepatitis infections (such as B and C) to help prevent cirrhosis and quitting smoking and drinking.

How is it diagnosed?

The doctor diagnosis bile duct cancer by conducting several tests on the patient which help in indicating the presence of cancerous cells in the bile duct.


How is it treated?

Bile ducts are responsible for draining of the digestive fluid bile. Bile duct cancer disturbs the function of the bile tubes. The doctor focuses on restoring the function of bile ducts using treatment. The doctor may opt for the following therapi..

  • Surgery

    During surgery, the doctors try to remove the tumour from the patient’s body. The deceased part of the bile duct is removed and the ends are joined back together.

  • Liver transplantation

    In this procedure, the doctor removes the diseased liver from the patient’s body and replaces it with a healthy liver donated by another person.

  • Chemotherapy

    Chemotherapy involves the usage of drugs to destroy the cancerous cells. It reduces the growth of the cancer and helps in controlling the symptoms.

  • Radiation therapy

    Radiation therapy involves the use of high-energy beams produced by a radiation machine or by the radioactive substances to kill the cancer cells.

  • Biliary drainage

    Biliary drainage helps to restore the flow of bile. The doctor may carry a bypass surgery to make a new passage for bile drainage. This process also helps in controlling the signs and symptoms of bile duct cancer.

When do I contact the doctor?

One should consult the doctor as soon as they start noticing any signs or symptoms of bile duct cancer in the person. The appropriate treatment and the associated side effects should be thoroughly evaluated and discussed with the doctor.

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How does Medanta provide care?

Medanta ensures expert care for its patients who are diagnosed with bile duct cancer at the Institute of Liver Transplantation and Regenerative Medicine. The Medanta Institute of Liver Transplantation and Regenerative Medicine is Asia’s first of..

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