How is bile duct cancer treated?

Stethoscope

The best treatment for you will depend on:

  • Where the cancer is 
  • How big the cancer is
  • If it has spread to other parts of your body
  • Your general health

Surgery, chemotherapy, targeted therapies and occasionally radiotherapy are used to treat bile duct cancer.

Surgery

Surgery to remove the cancer is not suitable for everyone and will depend on the stage of the cancer and your general health. It may be an option if you have early-stage cancer. Your doctor will discuss this with you – about what they expect from surgery and whether the cancer may reoccur. They will usually recommend having chemotherapy for about 6 months after this surgery to reduce the risk of it coming back.

If you are having surgery, you may be referred to the specialist hepatobiliary surgical centre in St Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin, or Cork University Hospital.

If your cancer is causing a blockage, your doctor might put a stent in during an ERCP or percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography - PTC (see tests after a bile duct cancer diagnosis). A stent is a thin mesh wire tube that will keep the duct open and prevent blockages.

For more information about surgery or stents, you can talk to one of our cancer nurses. Call our Support Line on 1800 200 700 or call into a Daffodil Centre. 

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a treatment that uses drugs to destroy cancer cells or slow the growth of the tumour.

If you are not suitable for surgery, chemotherapy may be used to shrink the cancer and help control symptoms such as pain. It is sometimes used after surgery to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back.

Having chemotherapy may improve how you feel but not everyone benefits from chemotherapy for this type of cancer. Your doctor will discuss the pros and cons of this treatment with you.

If you are having chemotherapy, you may have one type of drug or a few different types combined. Examples include cisplatin and gemcitabine. Some drugs are injected into a vein (intravenous) and others are given in tablet form.

Your doctor or nurse will discuss your chemotherapy treatment and possible side-effects with you. 

You can also call our Support Line on 1800 200 700 or visit a Daffodil Centre to ask for a copy of our booklet Understanding chemotherapy and other cancer drugs. Or visit www.cancer.ie for more on chemotherapy and coping with side-effects.

Read more about chemotherapy and its side-effects.

Understanding Chemotherapy and other cancer drugs booklet
Understanding Chemotherapy and other cancer drugs booklet
This booklet is for cancer patients to help them understand more about chemotherapy, targeted therapies and immunotherapies.

Radiotherapy 

Radiotherapy is a treatment that uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. 

It is not commonly used for bile duct cancer but it may be given:

  • After surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells
  • With chemotherapy to make the treatment work better (chemoradiation)
  • To relieve symptoms if the cancer is advanced or has come back. For example, pain, discomfort, bleeding or blockage. This is called palliative radiotherapy.

Radiotherapy for bile duct cancer can cause side-effects like sickness, constipation or diarrhoea and skin irritation in the area, as well as general side-effects like tiredness. Read more about radiotherapy.

Will I get side-effects?

The type of side-effects you get will depend on the type of treatment, the dose, the duration and your own general health. 

Your doctor or nurse will discuss any possible side-effects with you before your treatment. You can read about the different treatments to find out more about possible side-effects.

Treating cancer that has spread (metastatic cancer)

Metastatic bile duct cancer means the cancer has spread beyond the bile duct to other parts of the body.

If you have metastatic cancer, your doctor will aim to slow down the growth of the cancer and reduce or relieve any symptoms you have. Treatment includes surgery to relieve symptoms , chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Your doctor may suggest going on a clinical trial. Read more about clinical trials.

You may be referred to the symptom control team, also known as the palliative care team, who are experienced in managing the symptoms of metastatic cancer. They will also listen to how you are feeling and offer suggestions on what may help.

Talking about how you are feeling can help you to cope better. You can drop into your local Daffodil Centre to talk to a cancer nurse, or call our Support Line on 1800 200 700.

Read more about treating metastatic cancer.

For more information

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1800 200 700

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