Symptoms of bile duct cancer

Bile duct cancer may not cause any signs or symptoms in its early stages. Signs and symptoms often appear as the tumour grows into nearby organs, such as the liver, and causes changes. Other health conditions can cause the same symptoms as bile duct cancer.

The most common symptom of bile duct cancer is jaundice. Jaundice makes the skin and whites of the eyes yellow. It can also cause the urine to appear dark yellow and stool to be clay-coloured. The stool may be greasy and float in the toilet. It may also be lighter in colour.

The bile contains a yellow-green chemical called bilirubin. When bile cannot pass normally into the small intestine, the level of bilirubin increases in the body and causes jaundice. You will not be able to digest fatty foods if the cancer blocks the bile or pancreatic juice from passing into the intestine.

Other signs and symptoms of bile duct cancer include:

  • itching due to jaundice
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • fever
  • nausea and vomiting
  • abdominal (belly) pain

Expert review and references

  • Lillemoe KD, Schulick RD, Kennedy AS., et al . Cancers of the biliary tree: clinical management. Kelsen, D. P., Daly, J. M., Kern, S. E., Levin, B., Tepper, J. E., & Van Cutsem, E. (eds.). Principles and Practice of Gastrointestinal Oncology. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2008: Chapter 37: pp. 493-507.
  • Van Beers, B.E. . Diagnosis of cholangiocarcinoma. HPB. 2008: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/(ISSN)1477-2574.