Bile duct cancer often has no major symptoms in its early stages.

Bile ducts are tubes that connect the liver to the small intestine. They’re deep inside the abdomen, where early lumps or tumors can’t be felt.

Bile duct cancer also is known as cholangiocarcinoma. If the cancer is inside the liver, it’s called intrahepatic bile duct cancer. If it’s outside the liver, it’s called extrahepatic bile duct cancer.

Bile duct cancer is rare, but the number of people diagnosed with this cancer has been rising. The reason for the rise may be because testing for bile duct cancer has become more accurate.

Bile duct cancer is more often found in adults over the age of 70.

You will benefit from learning more about bile duct cancer.

Yellowing in the eyes or skin is a symptom of bile duct cancer.

Yellowing of the skin or the whites of the eyes is known as jaundice. Jaundice could be a sign of a buildup of waste material called bilirubin in the blood. Jaundice could be caused by a liver problem or a blocked bile duct. It also can be a sign of bile duct cancer.

Other symptoms include:

  • Excessive skin itching
  • Abdominal pain or a bloated feeling
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
Certain kinds of bowel disease can increase your risk of getting bile duct cancer.

Chronic inflammation and irritation in the bile ducts can increase your risk for bile duct cancer. These conditions can be caused by:

  • Narrow bile ducts or cysts: These can lead to blockages or inflammation in the bile ducts.
  • Ulcerative colitis: This inflammatory bowel disease can cause inflammation and sores anywhere along your digestive tract.
  • Liver parasites: Small parasites called liver flukes are often found in fresh waters in Southeast Asia. Fish from the region can become infected with the parasite and can be transmitted to people who eat the fish if it’s under-cooked or raw.
To help diagnose bile duct cancer, your doctor will use tests that show how well your liver is working.

Along with checking for signs of yellowing in your eyes and skin, your doctor may check your abdomen to see if it is sensitive to the touch from swelling caused by a buildup of fluid.

If your doctor suspects that your liver is not working properly, you may have liver function tests. These tests can identify the levels of various enzymes in the liver, or they can show infections or blockages in the bile ducts.

This work is done with blood tests and imaging tests, such as abdominal ultrasound, CT scans, or an MRI scan. 

If your doctor finds a tumor, you also may have a biopsy, which is a surgery to remove a small piece of the suspected tumor so it can be studied closely in a lab.

Some bile duct cancer can be treated with surgery.

If the tumor is only found within the bile ducts, it can be removed by a surgeon. The surgeon also may remove other nearby tissue to make sure the cancer cells don’t spread.

If the cancer has spread, the doctor may recommend removing all or part of the liver or pancreas if the cancer has spread. This could require a liver transplant.

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be used to treat bile duct cancer.

We have a team that specializes in treating this rare type of cancer.

Bile duct cancer may be rare, but at Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center, we have a team of experts who specialize in treating it. That team includes fellowship-trained medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, surgical oncologists, and transplant specialists.

We customize treatments and therapies just for you, and we offer clinical trials of the latest advanced diagnostic and treatment options not yet available on the market.

Our dedicated nurses help coordinate all aspects of your care, and we offer counseling services and support groups to extend your care long after your treatment.

Cancer Care Clinics

University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics

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University of Iowa Health Care Cancer Services-Quad Cities

Phone: 1-563-355-7733