Bile duct cancer, also known as cholangiocarcinoma is caused by an abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells in your bile duct.

Bile is a digestive fluid that helps to break down fats. It’s produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. Bile passes from your gallbladder into your small bowel to break down fatty foods when you eat. Bile ducts are tubes that connect your liver and gallbladder to your small bowel.

Bile duct cancer almost always starts in a type of tissue called glandular tissue and is therefore known as an adenocarcinoma.


The exact cause of bile duct cancer hasn’t fully been understood. However, there are certain factors that can increase a person’s chances of getting it, which include the following:

  • AGE: Two-thirds of people diagnosed with bile duct cancer are older than 65.
  • BILE STONES: These are similar to gallstones but form inside your liver rather than inside your gallbladder.
  • ULCERATIVE COLITIS: This inflammatory bowel disease causes swelling and irritation in the bowel.
  • PRIMARY SCLEROSING CHOLANGITIS: This is a liver condition that causes inflammation of the bile ducts.
  • CHOLEDOCHAL CYSTS: A person can be born with these cysts on the bile ducts.
  • INFECTION: An infection caused by a parasite called the liver fluke which is mostly found in south Asia and Africa could be a cause.

There are other things that may increase a person’s chances of getting bile duct cancer, but doctors are less certain of these. They include having conditions like diabetes, cirrhosis, hepatitis B and C, and fatty liver disease. Smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol, being obese, and being exposed to poisons such as dioxins, nitrosamines and vinyl chloride may also increase the risk.


Symptoms of bile duct cancer include

  • Dark urine
  • Yellowing of the skin and the white part of the eye (this occurs when the tumour blocks the bile duct, which causes bile to build up in your blood and tissues).
  • Pale coloured faeces
  • Pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Itchy skin
  • Weight loss.


The main treatment for bile duct cancer is surgery. It’s the only way bile duct cancer can be potentially cured. Other options include procedures to help your symptoms and chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Your treatment will depend on the position and size of the cancer in your bile duct, how far it has spread and your general health.




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