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Staging bile duct cancer

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This page tells you about the stages of bile duct cancer. You may also hear people call it cholangiocarcinoma. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

The stage of a cancer tells you how far your cancer has grown or spread. This is important because your specialist uses this information to decide which treatment is most suitable for you. There are different staging systems depending on where your bile duct cancer started. These include staging systems for tumours in the  

  • Bile ducts inside the liver (intrahepatic bile ducts)
  • Bile ducts just outside the liver where the right hepatic duct meets the left hepatic duct (perihilar bile ducts) – these are called Klatskin tumours
  • The bile ducts nearest to the bowel (distal bile ducts) – tumours here are most often in the common bile duct

There are also different ways of staging cancer. There is a number staging system and a TNM system.

The number system divides the stages into 4 main groups, from 1 to 4. Stage 1 is an early cancer that is only inside the bile duct. Stage 4 means that the cancer has spread to another part of the body.

TNM staging covers

  • The size of the tumour (T)
  • Whether cancer cells have spread to lymph nodes (N)
  • Whether the tumour has spread anywhere else in the body – secondary cancer or metastases (M)

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

 

 

What staging is

The stage of a cancer tells you how far your cancer has grown or spread. This is important because your specialist uses this information to decide which treatment is most suitable for you. The tests and scans you have when diagnosing your cancer give some information about the stage.

There are different staging systems depending on where your bile duct cancer started. These include staging systems for tumours in the  

  • Bile ducts inside the liver (intrahepatic bile ducts)
  • Bile ducts just outside the liver where the right hepatic duct meets the left hepatic duct (perihilar bile ducts) – these are called Klatskin tumours
  • The bile ducts nearest to the bowel (distal bile ducts) – tumours here are most often in the common bile duct

Diagram showing the groups of bile ducts

There are different ways of staging cancer. There is a number staging system and the TNM system.

 

Number staging system

This divides bile duct cancers into 4 main groups

  • Stage 1 – the cancer is small and only in one area of the bile duct (localised cancer)
  • Stage 2 and 3 – the cancer is larger, may have grown into the surrounding tissues, and there may be cancer cells in nearby lymph nodes (locally advanced cancer)
  • Stage 4 – the cancer has spread to another part of the body (secondary or metastatic cancer)
 

TNM staging

This takes the following factors into account

  • The size of the tumour (T)
  • Whether cancer cells have spread into the lymph nodes (N)
  • Whether the tumour has spread anywhere else in the body – secondary cancer or metastases (M)

The doctor gives each factor a number. So, a very small cancer which hasn’t spread is T1 N0 M0. A cancer that is larger and has spread into the lymph nodes and to another part of the body may be T3, N1, M1.

You can find detailed information about the staging for each type of bile duct cancer on the following pages

 

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Updated: 15 January 2015