Symptoms and diagnosis of bile duct cancer

Symptoms

The most common symptoms of bile duct cancer are:

  • Jaundice – a yellowing of your skin and eyes
  • Dark urine
  • Pale stools
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • High temperature
  • Itchy skin

Even though these symptoms can be caused by conditions other than cancer, do have them checked by your doctor.

Screening

Testing for cancer of the bile duct 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.

Diagnosis

Visit your family doctor (GP) if you are worried about any symptoms. If your doctor has concerns about you, he or she will refer you to a hospital specialist. He or she might arrange more tests. These include:

  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
  • Percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography (PTC)
  • Endoscopic ultrasound scan (EUS)
  • Laparotomy

Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP):

This is a type of X-ray of your gallbladder, bile duct and pancreas. Your doctor passes a thin, flexible tube through your mouth and down into your stomach and bowel. This lets your doctor look at your bile duct and check for anything unusual or abnormal. He or she can also inject a dye into your bile duct and check for blockages on an X-ray.

You cannot eat or drink for a few hours before an ERCP. You will be given a sedative to relax you and local anaesthetic will be sprayed onto your throat to numb the area. This helps to make you more comfortable when having the test.

Percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography (PTC):

This is a type of X-ray of your liver and gallbladder. 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.

For some hours before a PTC, you cannot eat or drink. You may feel discomfort where the needle goes into your tummy, but your doctor can give you painkillers to relieve it.

Endoscopic ultrasound scan (EUS):

An EUS is like an ERCP. 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 nearby organs, like your pancreas.

Laparotomy:

A laparotomy is a type of surgery that makes a small cut in your tummy (abdomen). This allows your doctor to check for anything unusual or abnormal. Depending on what your doctor finds, a laparotomy can sometimes lead to more surgery. For example, removing your gallbladder.

Other tests:

  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • Ultrasound scan

Learn more about the above tests

Call our National Cancer Helpline

Freephone 1800 200 700 to talk to a specialist cancer nurse
It's open Monday-Thursday from 9am to 7pm and Friday from 9am to 5pm