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Controlling symptoms of advanced cancer

Find out what can help to control symptoms of advanced bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma).

General symptoms

The most common symptom of advanced cancer is feeling tired. Other symptoms depend on where the cancer is in the body. They might include:

  • feeling or being sick
  • unexplained weight loss
  • pain
  • yellowing of eyes or skin (jaundice)

Treatment such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy might help to shrink or control the cancer, and reduce symptoms. You can also have other medicines to help relieve symptoms, such as taking painkillers.

Tell your doctor or specialist nurse about any symptoms. They can:

  • give you medicines
  • get equipment at home to help you manage symptoms
  • suggest other ways of controlling your symptoms
  • refer you to a symptom control team

Symptom control team

There are symptom control teams in most cancer units. They can help you to stay as well as possible for as long as possible. They are also in hospices and many general hospitals.

Most symptom control teams have home care services so they can visit you at home.

Tiredness

Tiredness is a common symptom. It can feel like you have no energy at all. Tiredness can be caused by a number of different reasons. Your doctor might be able to prescribe medicine to help or other treatments. For example, a blood transfusion can give you more energy if you’re tired due to anaemia (low red blood cell levels).

Resting regularly can help you feel less tired and more able to cope. You don't have to sleep during these times. Just sitting or lying down will help. 

Pain

You might have pain with advanced bile duct cancer. Your doctor will give you painkilling drugs. The right type and dose of painkillers can help manage the pain for most people.

You should not be in any pain when you are resting. It is more difficult to ease the pain when you are moving around but this can often be done.

Feeling sick

The best way of controlling sickness depends on what is causing it. There are many different anti sickness medicines.

A blockage in your bile ducts or small bowel (duodenum) can cause symptoms including sickness. Your doctor usually puts in a tube (stent) to open up the blockage, which helps to relieve symptoms

Loss of appetite

You might not feel like eating and may lose weight. It is important to eat as much as you can.

Tips:

  • Eating several small meals and snacks throughout the day can be easier to manage.
  • Ask your doctor to recommend high calorie drinks to sip if you are worried about losing weight.
  • Eat whatever you feel like eating rather than what you think you should eat.
  • Eat plenty of calories when you can to make up for times when you don’t feel like eating.
  • Drink plenty of fluids even if you can't eat.
  • Don't fill your stomach with a large amount of liquid before eating.
  • Try to eat high calorie foods to keep your weight up.
Talk to your dietitian about having high calorie drinks to boost your calorie intake if you need them.

Mood changes

You might find it difficult to cope when you are diagnosed with advanced cancer.

It is common for people with advanced bile duct cancer to feel sad or become depressed. You may find it helpful to understand this as a part of your illness. Talk to your specialist nurse about how you are feeling. They can arrange for more support if you need it.

Last reviewed: 
01 Mar 2018
  • Biliary cancer: ESMO clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow up
    JW Valle and others
    Annals of Oncology, 2016. Volume 27, Pages 28-37

  • Guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of cholangiocarcinoma: an update
    SA Khan and others 
    Gut, 2012. Volume 61, Pages 1657-1669

  • Oxford Textbook of Palliative Medicine (5th edition)
    N Cherny, M Fallon, S Kaasa and others
    Oxford University Press, 2015

  • Symptom management in advanced cancer (4th edition)
    R Twycross, A Wilcock and C Stark Toller
    Palliativedrugs.com Ltd, 2009

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