Treatment for bile duct cancer

Standard treatments

Many patients receive a few different treatments at the same time. For example, your doctor might use chemotherapy or radiotherapy to shrink your tumour before you have surgery. Your treatment will depend on the stage, grade and type of cancer cells that you have. The stage is based on the size of your cancer and if it has spread from where it started. The grade of your cancer can tell if your cancer grows quickly or slowly. You can have a low, moderate or high grade cancer.

Surgery: This is the most common form of treatment for bile duct cancer. The aim of surgery is to remove the part of the bile duct that contains cancer. If your cancer is causing a blockage, your doctor might put a stent in during an ERCP or PTC. A stent is a thin mesh wire that will keep the bile duct open and prevent blockages.

Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses drugs to cure or control your cancer. You might be given different chemotherapy drugs on their own or with each other. You might receive two or three chemotherapy drugs at the same time.
Chemotherapy can also be given before or after radiotherapy and surgery. The drugs are either injected into your bloodstream or given in tablet form.
For more about chemotherapy please see our booklet Understanding Chemotherapy, which you can download from our "Important cancer information booklets" list on the right hand side of this page.

Radiotherapy: Radiotherapy uses high-energy rays to kill or shrink the cancer cells. For more information, please see our booklet Understanding Radiotherapy, also listed among the "Important cancer information booklets" on the right hand side of this page.

Newer treatments

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a treatment that uses a light source and light-sensitive drugs to kill cancer cells. These drugs are injected into your vein. A laser light is aimed at the tumour some hours later. The light-sensitive drugs react to the light and destroy the tumour. PDT is rarely used for bile duct cancer. Your doctor will let you know if PDT is suitable for you and if it is available.

Advanced treatment

Advanced cancer means that your cancer has spread from the area where it started. If it spreads into the area around your bile duct, it is called local spread. If it spreads to other areas of your body, it is called secondary cancer or metastatic cancer. It is usually not possible to cure advanced cancer. Instead, treatment is given to control the cancer and relieve any symptoms you might have.
The palliative care team might visit you at this time. This team will help with any symptoms you have and support you and your family when you are having your treatment.

Side effects of treatment

The type of side-effects you get will depend on the type of treatment, the dose and duration, and your own general health. Some treatments may cause symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and loss of appetite or hair loss.
Many treatments cause fatigue. Before your treatment, your doctor will discuss any likely side-effects you might have.

For more about side-effects, download any of the "Important cancer information booklets" listed on the right hand side of this page.

Learn more about side effects

Clinical trials

If a treatment looks like it might be helpful, it is given to patients in research studies called clinical trials. Trials may be taking place at the hospital you are attending. If you are interested in taking part, talk to your doctor. He or she can tell you if the trial would suit you or not.

Learn more about clinical trials

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