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Treatment

Treatment for bile duct cancer usually aims to control the symptoms for as long as possible. But if it's found early enough, there's sometimes a chance it could be cured.

The main treatments are:

In early-stage bile duct cancer, a cure may be possible by removing the affected part of the bile duct and gallbladder, and usually some of the liver or pancreas.

A cure is unlikely to be possible in more advanced cancer, but inserting a stent, or treating with chemotherapy or radiotherapy can help to relieve the symptoms.

Surgery

If it's possible to cure your cancer, surgery to remove the cancerous tissue will be recommended.

Depending on exactly where the cancer is, it may be necessary to remove:

Surgery may be done through a single large cut (incision) in your tummy, or occasionally by using surgical instruments that are inserted through small incisions (called "keyhole" or laparoscopic surgery).

It's possible to live a normal life after surgery. You can live without a gallbladder, and surgeons can often reconstruct bile ducts. Your liver should still work even if part of it was removed.

Unblocking the bile duct

If your bile duct becomes blocked as a result of cancer, treatment to unblock it may be recommended.

This will help relieve symptoms such as:

The bile duct can be unblocked using a small hollow tube called a stent, which widens the bile duct and keeps it open.

The stent can be inserted using either a long, flexible tube (endoscope) passed down your throat, or by making a small cut (incision) in your skin.

Occasionally, a stent can become blocked. If this happens, it will need to be removed and replaced.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is used to relieve the symptoms of bile duct cancer, slow down the rate it spreads and prolong life.

It's used when the cancer is unsuitable for surgery but you're in good enough general health to have chemotherapy.

It's usually given through a drip into a vein in your arm.

Side effects of chemotherapy can include:

The side effects should pass once the course of treatment has finished.

Find out more about chemotherapy.

Radiotherapy

Like chemotherapy, radiotherapy is occasionally used with the aim of relieving symptoms, slowing the spread of the cancer and prolonging life, although it's not clear how effective it is at treating bile duct cancer.

It's usually given using a machine that aims a beam of radiation at the cancerous area.

Side effects of radiotherapy can include:

The side effects should pass once the course of treatment has finished.

Find out more about radiotherapy.

Clinical trials and research

Research is being done to look for better treatments for bile duct cancer.

For example, recent trials have looked at new combinations of chemotherapy medicine and whether treatment with medicines called targeted therapies is effective.

There is also some research being done on injecting tiny radioactive "beads" into the blood vessels that supply the liver. The beads become trapped and release radiation directly into the cancer cells.

You may be asked if you want to take part in a clinical trial as part of your treatment. You can also ask your care team about any trials you may be able to participate in.

Find out more about clinical trials.

Search the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) website for clinical trials being done in your area for bile duct cancer