Bile duct cancer

Bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma) is rare, with around 1,000 new cases each year in the UK. It is almost always a type of cancer called adenocarcinoma, which starts in the lining of the bile duct.

The bile ducts are tubes that carry bile. The main function of bile is to break down fats in food to help our digestion. Bile is made by the liver and stored in the gall bladder.

The bile ducts connect the liver and gall bladder to the small bowel (see diagram below). When people have had their gall bladder removed, bile flows directly from the liver into the small intestine.

The bile ducts and gall bladder are known as the biliary system.

Symptoms of bile duct cancer

  • Cancer in the bile ducts can block the flow of bile from the liver to the intestine. This causes bile to flow back into the blood and body tissues, and the skin and whites of the eyes to become yellow (jaundice). It also causes the urine to become a dark yellow colour and stools (bowel motions) to look pale. The skin may become itchy.
  • Other possible symptoms include discomfort in the tummy area (abdomen), loss of appetite, high temperatures (fevers) and weight loss.
  • These symptoms can be caused by many things other than bile duct cancer, but it's important to get them checked by your doctor.

*Information provided by Macmillan cancer support

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