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Decisions about your treatment

How your doctor decides which treatment you need for bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma), the types of treatment you might have and treatment by stage.

Deciding which treatment you need

A team of doctors and other professionals discuss the best treatment and care for you. They are called a multidisciplinary team (MDT).

The treatment you have depends on:

  • where your cancer is
  • how far it has grown or spread (the stage)
  • the type of cancer
  • how abnormal the cells look under a microscope (the grade)
  • your general health and level of fitness

Your doctor will discuss your treatment, its benefits and the possible side effects with you.

Treatment overview

One of the main treatments for bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma) is surgery. After surgery, you may have radiotherapy or chemotherapy or both. This is to help stop the cancer from coming back. 

You might have radiotherapy and chemotherapy if you cannot have surgery. This can help to relieve symptoms.

Surgery for bile duct cancer

Your surgeon will suggest surgery if it is possible to remove your cancer and you are fit enough to cope with a major operation.

You will have treatments to help to relieve symptoms if surgery to remove your cancer is not possible.

Jaundice is a common symptom of bile duct cancer, and can make you feel very ill. Your doctor can put in a small tube (stent) to relieve jaundice. You have this by endoscopy. If this is not possible your surgeon may suggest surgery to go round a blockage in your bowel and keep your digestive system working.

Radiotherapy and chemotherapy for bile duct cancer

Radiotherapy uses high energy rays to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy uses anti cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to damage and kill cancer cells. 

You may have radiotherapy on its own. Or if results after surgery showed cancer cells in the tissue around the tumour, you may have radiotherapy with chemotherapy to lower the risk of the cancer coming back. Research is looking into how well radiotherapy and chemotherapy can help to lower the risk of bile duct cancer coming back after surgery.

If you can’t have surgery, you may have radiotherapy or chemotherapy to help slow the growth of your cancer and relieve symptoms.

Treatment for advanced bile duct cancer

For cancers that have already spread to another part of your body, using surgery to remove the tumour in the bile duct will not cure the cancer. Your doctor might suggest chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Getting a second opinion

Some people feel they would like to get an opinion from a second doctor before they decide about their treatment. Ask your specialist or your GP to refer you to a doctor specialising in liver and bile duct cancers if you would like a second opinion. It can be better to arrange a second opinion through your specialist because they can send all your notes and test results with you.

Do remember that a second opinion does not necessarily mean that the second doctor will take over your care. Your treatment will usually still be managed by your original specialist.

Clinical trials to improve treatment

Your doctor might ask if you’d like to take part in a clinical trial. Doctors and researchers do trials to improve treatment by:

  • making existing treatments better
  • developing new treatments

Information and help

Dangoor sponsorship

About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.