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The bile ducts

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This page tells you about the bile ducts. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what’s on this page

The bile ducts

Bile is a fluid that helps us digest food. The liver makes bile and the gallbladder stores it. The bile ducts are the tubes that carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder and to the bowel when we need it. This system is called the biliary system.

There are a number of bile ducts connected together. The bile ducts in the liver are called the intrahepatic bile ducts. The bile ducts outside the liver are called the extrahepatic bile ducts. Cancer of the bile ducts is also called cholangiocarcinoma.

Two main bile ducts carry bile from the liver, and one duct comes from the gallbladder. These join together to form the common bile duct. The common bile duct connects to the small bowel where it meets the pancreatic duct. The bile ducts release bile into the bowel to help digest food.

Doctors divide bile duct cancers into 3 groups depending on where they develop in the biliary system.

  • Intrahepatic – the right and left hepatic ducts and their smaller branches
  • Perihilar (hilar) region – where the right and left hepatic ducts meet (extrahepatic)
  • Distal region – this includes the bile ducts close to the small bowel and the pancreas (extrahepatic)

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the about bile duct cancer section.

 

The bile ducts are part of the digestive system. They are the tubes that connect the liver, the gallbladder and small bowel. The bile ducts carry bile. This is a fluid that helps to digest food, by breaking down fat. The liver makes bile, which is stored in the gallbladder.

Diagram showing the position of the bilary system

 

There are two main bile ducts in the liver – the right and left hepatic ducts. They join together just outside the liver to form the common hepatic duct. 

Another bile duct comes from the gallbladder. This is called the cystic duct.

The hepatic duct and cystic duct join together to form the common bile duct. 

The common bile duct passes behind the pancreas and joins the pancreatic duct. The point where they join is called the ampulla. The combined ducts open into the small bowel, where bile is released. The release of bile is controlled by a valve called the sphincter of Oddi.

When we eat, the gallbladder releases bile into the small bowel to help digest food.

 

Diagram showing the position of the bile ducts

 

Where bile duct cancer develops

Bile duct cancer is also called cholangiocarcinoma (pronounced kol-an-gee-oh-car-sin-oh-ma).

Doctors divide bile duct cancers into 3 groups depending on where they develop in the biliary system

  • Intrahepatic region – this means within the liver and includes the right and left hepatic ducts and their smaller branches
  • Perihilar (hilar) region – this is just outside the liver where the right and left hepatic ducts meet
  • Distal region – this includes the bile ducts close to the small bowel and the pancreas

Diagram showing the groups of bile ducts

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Updated: 13 January 2015