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Bile Duct Cancer (Cholangiocarcinoma) Library

Learn about Bile Duct Cancer (Cholangiocarcinoma)

Bile duct cancer is a rare disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the bile ducts. Bile duct cancer is also called cholangiocarcinoma.

A network of tubes, called ducts, connects the liver, gallbladder, and small intestine. This network begins in the liver where many small ducts collect bile (a fluid made by the liver to break down fats during digestion). The small ducts come together to form the right and left hepatic ducts, which lead out of the liver. The two ducts join outside the liver and form the common hepatic duct. The cystic duct connects the gallbladder to the common hepatic duct. Bile from the liver passes through the hepatic ducts, common hepatic duct, and cystic duct and is stored in the gallbladder.

When food is being digested, bile stored in the gallbladder is released and passes through the cystic duct to the common bile duct and into the small intestine.

Types of bile duct cancer

There are two types of bile duct cancer:

  • Intrahepatic bile duct cancer: This type of cancer forms in the bile ducts inside the liver. Only a small number of bile duct cancers are intrahepatic. Intrahepatic bile duct cancers are also called intrahepatic cholangiocarcinomas.
  • Extrahepatic bile duct cancer: This type of cancer forms in the bile ducts outside the liver. The extrahepatic bile duct is made up of the hilum region and the distal region. Cancer can form in either region:
    • Perihilar bile duct cancer: This type of cancer is found in the hilum region, the area where the right and left bile ducts exit the liver and join to form the common hepatic duct. Perihilar bile duct cancer is also called a Klatskin tumor or perihilar cholangiocarcinoma.
    • Distal bile duct cancer: This type of cancer is found in the distal region. The distal region is made up of the common bile duct which passes through the pancreas and ends in the small intestine. Distal bile duct cancer is also called extrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma.

Signs and symptoms of bile duct cancer

These and other signs and symptoms may be caused by bile duct cancer or by other conditions. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • jaundice (yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes)
  • dark urine
  • clay colored stool
  • pain in the abdomen
  • fever
  • itchy skin
  • nausea and vomiting
  • weight loss for an unknown reason

There are no routine screening tests to check for bile duct cancer before signs and symptoms occur. To learn about tests that are used to diagnose bile duct cancer, see Bile Duct Cancer Diagnosis.

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