Treatments for bile duct cancer

If you have bile duct cancer, your healthcare team will create a treatment plan just for you. It will be based on your health and specific information about the cancer. When deciding which treatments to offer for bile duct cancer, your healthcare team will consider:

  • whether the tumour can be completely removed with surgery (is resectable) or cannot be completely removed (is unresectable)
  • the stage of your cancer
  • your overall health

In the early stages of bile duct cancer, complete removal of the tumour with surgery is the only treatment that offers a chance for a cure. But usually in an advanced stage, the cancer cannot be fully removed with surgery. Chemotherapy and chemoradiation may be given to slow down the spread of cancer and prolong life. Palliative treatment may also be used to relieve symptoms. Intrahepatic bile duct cancers are treated more like liver cancer.

Expert review and references

  • ACS . Bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma). American Cancer Society. Bile Duct (Cholangiocarcinoma) Cancer. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society; 2014.
  • Blechacz, B.R.A. and Gores, G.J. . Cholangiocarcinoma. Clinics in Liver Disease. 2008:
  • Hodgin MB . Gallbladder and bile duct cancer. Yarbro, CH, Wujcki D, & Holmes Gobel B. (eds.). Cancer Nursing: Principles and Practice. 7th ed. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett; 2011: Chapter 55. pp: 1316-1333.
  • 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.
  • National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN). Hepatobiliary Cancers Version 2.2015. 2015:
  • Nickloes, T.A.. Medscape Reference: Bile duct tumors. 2015:
  • Siegel, A.B., Sheynzon,V., and Samstein, B. . Uncommon Hepatobiliary tumors. Raghavan, E., Blanke, C.D., Johnson, D. H., et al. (Eds.). Textbook of Uncommon Cancer. 4th ed. Chichester, England: John Wiley & Sons; 2012: 31:441-452.

Treatments for resectable bile duct cancer

Treatment options for resectable extrahepatic bile duct cancer include surgery and radiation therapy. The types of treatments given are based on the unique needs of the person with cancer.

Treatments for unresectable bile duct cancer

Treatment options for unresectable extrahepatic bile duct cancer include chemotherapy, palliative surgery and chemoradiation. The types of treatments given are based on the unique needs of the person with cancer.

Treatments for recurrent bile duct cancer

The following are treatment options for recurrent extrahepatic bile duct cancer. The types of treatments given are based on the unique needs of the person with cancer.

Surgery for bile duct cancer

Surgery is the main treatment used to treat bile duct cancer.

Radiation therapy for bile duct cancer

Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays or particles to destroy cancer cells. Radiation may be used for extrahepatic bile duct cancer to relieve pain or to control the symptoms of advanced extrahepatic bile duct cancer (palliative radiation therapy) as the main treatment, with or without chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy for bile duct cancer

Chemotherapy is often used to treat extrahepatic bile duct cancer.

Follow-up after treatment for bile duct cancer

Extrahepatic bile duct cancer behaves differently in each person, and a standard follow-up schedule would not work for everyone. People with extrahepatic bile duct cancer should talk to their doctor about a plan that suits their individual situation. Follow-up care is often shared among the specialists .

Medical disclaimer

The information that the Canadian Cancer Society provides does not replace your relationship with your doctor. The information is for your general use, so be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare professional before making medical decisions or if you have questions about your health.

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