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Bile Duct Cancer (Cholangiocarcinoma)

Bile, a digestive fluid, flows from the gallbladder and liver to the small intestine through slender tubes called ducts. Bile duct cancer can develop in any part of the bile duct system.

Up to 3,000 Americans develop bile duct cancer each year. A rare but aggressive disease, bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma) most often appears in individuals over age 60.

Based on where in the system the cancer develops, cholangiocarcinoma is usually classified into three different types:

  • intrahepatic bile duct cancers
  • perihilar (also called hilar) bile duct cancers
  • distal bile duct cancers

Perihilar bile duct cancers are the most common of these cancers, occurring in 6 or 7 of every 10 cases.

Bile Duct Cancer Symptoms and Diagnosis

Each type of bile duct cancer can produce different symptoms, depending on the organs affected by the disease. General bile duct cancer symptoms may include:

  • jaundice (a yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes)
  • intense itching of the skin
  • white-colored stools
  • dark, tea-colored urine

Your NorthShore gastroenterologist will ask about your medical history and conduct a physical exam. In order to confirm a diagnosis of bile duct cancer, you may undergo various tests including abdominal ultrasound, CT and MRI scans, or endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) and endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP).

Bile Duct Cancer Treatment

At NorthShore, we take a collaborative approach to treating bile duct cancer. Through the programs and services of the Kellogg Cancer Center, our multidisciplinary team of specialists meets weekly to discuss each patient’s case in detail and to design a personalized treatment plan for cholangiocarcinoma. Patients have as part of their Kellogg team, experienced liver disease specialists (hepatologists) and highly-skilled endoscopists who are board-certified gastroenterologists with special training in using sophisticated technology to treat benign and malignant tumors of the GI and liver tract.

NorthShore is one of the few centers in the country performing radiofrequency (RF) ablation of obstructing bile duct cancers, which either block or have collapsed a bile duct, to restore normal bile flow. In addition to this innovative technique, other procedures include stents and bypass surgery.

Treatment options for bile duct cancer may include a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Liver transplantation may provide a viable cure, depending on the type of bile duct cancer.

For More Information

For more information on bile duct cancer symptoms and treatment, or to schedule an appointment with one of our gastroenterologists, please call 847.657.1900.