Bile ducts are thin tubes that carry bile (gall), commonly referred to as your "stomach juices," from the liver and gallbladder to the small intestine, where it helps break down fat from the food that you eat. Bile duct cancer, or cholangiocarcinoma, is a rare form of cancer that originates in these ducts. The cancer is named according to where in the bile duct system the cancer begins. The types of bile duct cancer include:

  • Intrahepatic bile duct cancer – formed within the liver
  • Hilar bile duct cancer – formed below and outside of the liver
  • Distal bile duct cancer – starts close to the small intestine, furthest from the liver

While anyone can get bile duct cancer, certain people may be more at risk for this particular type of disease, including people who have:

  • Been exposed to certain chemicals, such as at an automotive or rubber plant
  • Traveled to areas of the world where parasitic liver flukes, which can enter the body via food or water, are common
  • Cirrhosis, a liver disease commonly caused by hepatitis virus or from drinking too much alcohol

Symptoms and diagnosis of bile duct cancer

As with many diseases, you may not have noticeable symptoms of bile duct cancer. When the bile duct is blocked by a tumor, however, you may experience symptoms such as:

  • Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and eyes due to too much bilirubin in the blood
  • Itching, caused by bile salt buildup and bilirubin in the skin
  • Loss of appetite or weight loss

To diagnose your condition, your doctor may order certain tests, including a blood chemistry test, tumor marker test, ultrasound, CT scan, MRI and a biopsy, which involves taking a sample of tissue and testing it in a laboratory.

Your doctor will review your test results with you and help determine appropriate treatment options.

To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.