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Symptoms

The symptoms of bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma) include yellowing of the skin (jaundice) and weight loss. Find out more and when to see your doctor. 

About the symptoms

Bile duct cancer doesn’t usually cause symptoms in the early stages. Any symptoms that you do have are often quite vague, such as feeling sick and loss of appetite.

The symptoms vary depending on where the cancer is in the bile ducts. Cancers that start in the liver bile ducts (intrahepatic bile duct cancer) often don’t cause any specific symptoms until they are more advanced.

Yellowing of the skin (jaundice)

Jaundice is the yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes. When you have jaundice your urine is darker than normal. Your bowel motions may also be lighter in colour. Most people who have jaundice will also have itchy skin.

Jaundice can happen when a tumour blocks the bile duct and stops the flow of bile into the bowel. So bile ends up in your bloodstream and body tissues instead. The yellowing is from yellow pigments in the bile.

Weight loss

Losing weight for no apparent reason is a symptom of bile duct cancer. 

Pain in the stomach area

Pain in the stomach area is a common symptom of bile duct cancer. The pain is usually on your right hand side, just below your ribs.

At first it may be a dull ache, more of a discomfort than a pain. It is often one of the first symptoms of intrahepatic bile duct cancer. Do remember though that you can have pain like this from less serious conditions, such as gallstones.

High temperature and shivering

You may have a high temperature (fever) when you are jaundiced. It can be a sign of inflammation or an infection in the bile ducts. When your temperature is high you may feel cold and shivery.
 

When to see your GP

See your GP if you have any of the symptoms above. Bile duct cancer is rare and these symptoms can be caused by other conditions. But it's important to get them checked by a doctor.

Last reviewed: 
13 Jan 2015
  • Cancer and its management (6th edition)
    Tobias J and Hochhauser D
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2010

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