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Treatment

Bile duct cancer is often treatable. But it can be difficult to treat.

The treatment you have will depend on:

  • the size and type of bile duct cancer you have
  • where it is
  • if it has spread
  • your general health

It may include surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

The specialist care team looking after you will:

  • explain the treatments, benefits and side effects
  • work with you to create a treatment plan that is best for you
  • help you manage any side effects, including changes to your diet to help with your digestion

You'll have regular check-ups during and after any treatments. You may also have tests and scans.

If you have any symptoms or side effects that you are worried about, talk to your specialists. You do not need to wait for your next check-up.

Surgery

Your treatment will depend on if the cancer can be removed or not.

Surgery to remove bile duct cancer

If bile duct cancer is found early and it has not spread, you should be able to have surgery to remove it.

This will usually involve removing all or parts of the bile duct, as well as parts of other organs or lymph nodes around it. Lymph nodes are part of your body's immune system.

Surgery to help control symptoms of bile duct cancer

If the cancer has spread too far and cannot be removed, you may have surgery to help control some symptoms of bile duct cancer.

This can include surgery to:

  • unblock the bile duct or stop it getting blocked, which helps with jaundice
  • unblock the first part of the small intestine or stop it getting blocked, which helps with feeling or being sick
  • bypass a blockage in the bile duct or small intestine, which helps with jaundice and feeling or being sick

The aim of these operations is to help improve your symptoms and help you live longer, not to cure the cancer.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses medicines to kill cancer cells.

You may have chemotherapy for bile duct cancer:

  • after surgery to get rid of any remaining cancer and help stop the cancer coming back
  • to help make the cancer smaller, and control and improve the symptoms if you are not able to have surgery
  • with radiotherapy (chemoradiotherapy)

Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy uses high-energy rays of radiation to kill cancer cells.

Radiotherapy is not often used to treat bile duct cancer. But you may have radiotherapy:

  • after surgery to help stop the cancer coming back
  • to help control and improve the symptoms of advanced cancer
  • with radiotherapy (chemoradiotherapy)

What happens if you've been told your cancer cannot be cured

If you have advanced bile duct cancer it might be very hard to treat. It may not be possible to cure the cancer.

If this is the case, the aim of your treatment will be to limit the cancer and its symptoms, and help you live longer.

Finding out the cancer cannot be cured can be very hard news to take in.

You will be referred to a special team of doctors and nurses called the palliative care team or symptom control team.

They will work with you to help manage your symptoms and make you feel more comfortable.

The clinical nurse specialist or palliative care team can also help you and your loved ones get any support you need.

Information:

Find out more

Macmillan Cancer Support: end of life care