font size

Bile Duct Cancer

Medical Author:
Medical Editor:

What is bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma)?

Bile duct cancer is a cancer that arises from the cells that line the drainage system for bile from the liver and gallbladder into the small intestine. The bile in the intestine helps with food digestion. Bile duct cancer is a rare form of cancer, with less than 3,000 new cases diagnosed in the United States each year. Bile duct cancer is also called cholangiocarcinoma.

There are three general locations where the cancer arises in the bile drainage system:

  • Within the liver (intrahepatic): Affecting the bile ducts located within the liver
  • Just outside of the liver (extrahepatic): also called perihilar, located at the notch of the liver where the bile ducts exit
  • Far outside of the liver (distal extrahepatic): near where the bile ducts enter the intestine (called the ampulla of Vater)

Bile duct cancers are most commonly found just outside of the liver in the perihilar area and least commonly within the liver.

The incidence of bile duct cancer increases with age. The cancer is slow growing, invading local structures and for that reason, the diagnosis is often made late in the disease process often when the bile ducts are blocked preventing bile drainage from the liver and gallbladder into the intestine. Depending upon where the blockage occurs, this can lead to inflammation of the liver and pancreas.

Chronic inflammation of the bile ducts may be a risk factor for this cancer. Diseases that can cause chronic inflammation of the bile ducts include primary sclerosing cholangitis and chronic parasite infections. Native Americans are six times more likely to develop bile duct cancer. Asian Americans may also be at higher risk.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/4/2015

Patient Comments

Viewers share their comments

Bile Duct Cancer - Treatment Question: What kind of treatment did you have for bile duct cancer?
Bile Duct Cancer - Symptoms Question: What symptoms did you have when you were diagnosed with bile duct cancer?
Bile Duct Cancer - Stage Question: What stage is your bile duct cancer?


Get the latest treatment options.

Use Pill Finder Find it Now See Interactions

Pill Identifier on RxList

  • quick, easy,
    pill identification

Find a Local Pharmacy

  • including 24 hour, pharmacies

Interaction Checker

  • Check potential drug interactions
Search the Medical Dictionary for Health Definitions & Medical Abbreviations