Treatments for recurrent bile duct cancer

Recurrent bile duct cancer means that the cancer has come back after it has been treated. The following are treatment options for recurrent bile duct cancer. Your healthcare team will suggest treatments based on your needs and work with you to develop a treatment plan.

Treatment for recurrent perihilar bile duct cancer and recurrent distal bile duct cancer depends on:

  • what kind of treatment was previously given
  • where the cancer has come back
  • your overall health

Recurrent bile duct cancer cannot usually be removed with surgery (it is unresectable), so it is often treated in the same way as unresectable bile duct cancer. Treatment is usually palliative.

Palliative surgery or procedures

Palliative surgery or procedures are given to relieve the signs and symptoms of advanced bile duct cancer, such as:

  • jaundice
  • pain and inflammation of the bile ducts (cholangitis)
  • pain in the abdomen

You may have these symptoms if the tumour blocks the bile duct. Palliative surgery or procedures to remove the block may include:

  • placing a small wire or plastic tube (stent) to keep the bile duct open and drain the liver
  • inserting a tube (catheter) to drain bile
  • doing a biliary bypass to change the flow of bile


Chemotherapy is used for recurrent bile duct cancer. You may get a single chemotherapy drug or a combination of chemotherapy drugs to treat recurrent bile duct cancer.


In chemoradiation, radiation therapy is given in the same time period as chemotherapy to kill the cancer cells more effectively. It may be used in advanced bile duct cancer to relieve pain or other symptoms. If the person had radiation therapy before, they may not be able to receive it in the same treatment area. This is because the tissues can only cope with a certain amount of radiation therapy.

If you can’t have or don’t want cancer treatment

You may want to consider a type of care to make you feel better without treating the cancer itself. This may be because the cancer treatments don’t work anymore, they’re not likely to improve your condition or they may cause side effects that are hard to cope with. There may also be other reasons why you can’t have or don’t want cancer treatment.

Talk to your healthcare team. They can help you choose care and treatment for advanced cancer.

Clinical trials

Some clinical trials in Canada are open to people with bile duct cancer. Clinical trials look at new ways to prevent, find and treat cancer. Find out more about clinical trials.

Expert review and references

  • Cancer management guidelines: gastrointestinal: bile ducts. BC Cancer Agency. BC Cancer Agency. Vancouver, BC: BC Cancer Agency; 2010.
  • 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:

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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The Canadian Cancer Society is not responsible for the quality of the information or services provided by other organizations and mentioned on, nor do we endorse any service, product, treatment or therapy.

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