Bile Duct (Cholangiocarcinoma) Cancer

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Treating Bile Duct Cancer TOPICS

How is bile duct cancer treated?

Making treatment decisions

After bile duct cancer is found and staged, your cancer care team will discuss your treatment options with you. It is important for you to take time and think about your choices. In choosing a treatment plan, there are some factors to consider:

  • The location and extent of the cancer
  • Whether the cancer is resectable (removable by surgery)
  • The likely side effects of treatment
  • Your overall health
  • The chances of curing the disease, extending life, or relieving symptoms

The main types of treatment for bile duct cancer include:

Based on your treatment options, you might have different types of doctors on your cancer care team. These might include:

  • A surgeon or a surgical oncologist: a surgeon who specializes in cancer treatment
  • A radiation oncologist: a doctor who uses radiation to treat cancer
  • A medical oncologist: a doctor who uses chemotherapy and other medicines to treat cancer
  • A gastroenterologist (GI doctor): a doctor who treats diseases of the digestive system
  • A hepatologist: a doctor who treats disease of the liver and bile ducts

Many other specialists might be part of your treatment team as well, including physician assistants (PAs), nurse practitioners (NPs), nurses, psychologists, social workers, rehabilitation specialists, and other health professionals. See Health Professionals Associated With Cancer Care for more on this.

It’s important to discuss all of your treatment options, including their goals and possible side effects, with your doctors to help make the decision that best fits your needs. It’s also very important to ask questions if there is anything you’re not sure about. You can find some good questions to ask in the section “What should you ask your doctor about bile duct cancer?” If time allows, it is often a good idea to seek a second opinion, particularly for an uncommon cancer like bile duct cancer. A second opinion can provide more information and help you feel more confident about your chosen treatment plan.

Thinking about taking part in a clinical trial

Clinical trials are carefully controlled research studies that are done to get a closer look at promising new treatments or procedures. Clinical trials are one way to get state-of-the art cancer treatment. In some cases they may be the only way to get access to newer treatments. They are also the best way for doctors to learn better methods to treat cancer. Still, they are not right for everyone.

If you would like to learn more about clinical trials that might be right for you, start by asking your doctor if your clinic or hospital conducts clinical trials. You can also call our clinical trials matching service at 1-800-303-5691 for a list of studies that meet your medical needs, or see “Clinical Trials” to learn more.

Considering complementary and alternative methods

You may hear about alternative or complementary methods that your doctor hasn’t mentioned to treat your cancer or relieve symptoms. These methods can include vitamins, herbs, and special diets, or other methods such as acupuncture or massage, to name a few.

Complementary methods refer to treatments that are used along with your regular medical care. Alternative treatments are used instead of a doctor’s medical treatment. Although some of these methods might be helpful in relieving symptoms or helping you feel better, many have not been proven to work. Some might even be dangerous.

Be sure to talk to your cancer care team about any method you are thinking about using. They can help you learn what is known (or not known) about the method, which can help you make an informed decision. See Complementary and Alternative Medicine to learn more.

Help getting through cancer treatment

Your cancer care team will be your first source of information and support, but there are other resources for help when you need it. Hospital- or clinic-based support services are an important part of your care. These might include nursing or social work services, financial aid, nutritional advice, rehab, or spiritual help.

The American Cancer Society also has programs and services – including rides to treatment, lodging, support groups, and more – to help you get through treatment. Call our National Cancer Information Center at 1-800-227-2345 and speak with one of our trained specialists on call 24 hours a day, every day.

The next few sections describe the different types of treatment for bile duct cancer. This is followed by a discussion of the most common treatments for bile duct cancer based on whether it is resectable.

The treatment information given here is not official policy of the American Cancer Society and is not intended as medical advice to replace the expertise and judgment of your cancer care team. It is intended to help you and your family make informed decisions, together with your doctor. Your doctor may have reasons for suggesting a treatment plan different from these general treatment options. Don't hesitate to ask him or her questions about your treatment options.

Last Medical Review: 11/01/2014
Last Revised: 01/20/2016