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Types of bile duct cancer

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This page tells you about the different types of bile duct cancer. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what’s on this page

Types of bile duct cancer

Most bile duct cancers start in the cells that line the bile duct called epithelial cells. Cancers that start in these cells are called adenocarcinomas. Your type of bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma) depends on which part of the bile duct the cancer started in. There are 2 main types.

Intrahepatic bile duct cancers start in the liver. There a number of small branches of bile ducts in the liver that join together to form the right and left hepatic bile ducts.

Extrahepatic bile duct cancers start in the bile ducts outside the liver. The most common type starts just outside the live, where the left and right hepatic ducts join together. This is called the perihilar region. These cancers are also called Klatskin tumours.

The other type of extrahepatic bile duct cancers start near the bowel in an area called the distal bile duct region.
 

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

 

 

Cells of the bile duct

Most cancers of the bile duct start in the cells that line the bile ducts. These are called epithelial cells. This type of cancer is called an adenocarcinoma (add-en-oh-car-sin-oh-ma). The medical term for bile duct cancer is cholangiocarcinoma (pronounced kol-an-gee-oh-car-sin-oh-ma).

There are a number of other types of bile duct cancer that develop from other types of cells within the bile duct. These types of bile duct cancer are extremely rare but include

  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Sarcoma
  • Lymphoma
 

Extrahepatic bile duct cancers

Extrahepatic bile duct cancers start in the bile ducts outside the liver. They can be divided into two types depending on the area they develop in

Perihilar region bile duct cancers

These are cancers that develop just outside the liver, where the left and right hepatic ducts join together. They are also called Klatskin tumours or hilar cancers. These are the most common type of bile duct cancer. Around 6 out of 10 bile duct cancers (60%) start in the perihilar region.

Diagram showing the position of the perihilar bile ducts

Distal region bile duct cancers

These are cancers that start in the bile ducts below the perihilar region near the bowel. Around 2 in 10 bile duct cancers (20%) start in the distal region. Before surgery it may be difficult for doctors to be certain whether the cancer is in the bile duct or the pancreas.

Diagram showing the position of the distal bile ducts

Intrahepatic bile duct cancers start inside the liver. There are a number of small bile ducts that join together inside the liver to form the left and right hepatic ducts. Around 2 in 10 bile duct cancers (20%) start in the intrahepatic bile ducts

DIagram showing the position of the intrahepatic bile ducts

This type of bile duct cancer is sometimes confused with cancers called hepatocellular cancers, which start in liver cells. Our liver cancer section has information about hepatocellular cancer.

 

Non cancerous growths in the bile duct

Non cancerous (benign) tumours can also grow in the bile duct. They include bile duct adenoma and hamartomas.

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Updated: 27 January 2015