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Surgery to relieve symptoms

Find out about surgery to relieve symptoms of bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma). 

Symptom relief

If you can’t have surgery to remove your cancer you may have surgery to relieve symptoms, but this is not common. A tumour in the bile duct can block it and cause a build up of bile in the blood. This is called jaundice and can cause:

  • yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes
  • itching
  • feeling sick
  • weakness and lack of energy
  • a feeling of discomfort and wind


The most common way to relieve jaundice is to put a tube into the bile duct. The tube is called a stent. The stent holds the bile duct open and allows the bile to flow again.


But your surgeon may suggest that you have surgery if you can’t have a stent or if a stent has not worked. This is abdominal surgery so you will have a wound on your abdomen (tummy). Your surgeon cuts the bile duct above the blockage and reconnects it to the small bowel. They call this operation bypass surgery or choledochojejunostomy (kol-ee-dock-oh jeh-joo-nos-tom-ee).

After abdominal surgery you need to stay in hospital for at least a few days while you start to get over the operation. This type of surgery nearly always works well in relieving jaundice and will help to improve your quality of life.

Some people who have distal bile duct cancers have a blockage where the stomach joins the bowel. A blockage here stops the stomach emptying. The symptoms include feeling and being sick. Surgery to bypass this or a stent can relieve this blockage.

Last reviewed: 
20 Jan 2015
  • Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (10th edition)
    VT De Vita, TS Lawrence and SA Rosenberg
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2015

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