Symptoms and diagnosis of bile duct cancer



Bile duct cancer often has no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. Some bile duct cancers are found by chance. The symptoms include:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of your eyes and skin)
  • Dark urine
  • Pale stools (poo)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Tiredness
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Itchy skin
  • Fever (high temperature)

These symptoms can also be caused by conditions other than cancer, but it’s important to go to the GP and get any unusual changes checked. Cancer is usually easier to treat and cure if it’s found early. 

Can I be screened for bile duct cancer?

Testing for bile duct cancer when you have no symptoms is called screening. There is no national bile duct cancer screening programme in Ireland at present. If you are concerned about bile duct cancer, talk to your GP.

Diagnosing bile duct cancer

Your family doctor (GP) will examine you and talk to you about your symptoms and may do blood tests. Your GP will refer you to hospital if they think you need more tests. Tests you might have include:

ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography)

This is a special type of X-ray that looks at your bile ducts. Your doctor will pass a thin, flexible tube through your mouth and into your stomach and bowel. The doctor can look at your bile duct and check for any abnormal changes. They can also inject dye into the duct and check for blockages on the X-ray.

Percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography (PTC)

This is a type of X-ray of your liver and bile duct. Your doctor numbs an area of your tummy (abdomen) with local anaesthetic first. He or she then puts a thin needle through your tummy and into your liver. A dye is injected into your bile duct so that your doctor can see any blockages on the X-ray.

Endoscopic ultrasound scan (EUS)

Your doctor passes a thin, flexible tube through your mouth and down into your stomach and bowel. A device called a probe is then put through the tube. This uses sound waves to look at organs near to your bile duct, like your pancreas.


Your doctor makes a cut in your tummy (abdomen) to check for abnormal changes. A laparoscopy can sometimes lead to more surgery, depending on what your doctor finds. For example, removing your bile duct.

For more information

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