Screening for bile duct cancer

There is no national screening programme for bile duct cancer in the UK. This is because there isn’t a test that can pick up bile duct cancer at an early stage.

What is cancer screening?

Screening means testing people for early stages of a disease. This is before they have any symptoms. For screening to be useful the tests:

  • need to be reliable at picking up cancers
  • overall must do more good than harm to people taking part
  • must be something that people are willing to do

Screening tests are not perfect and have some risks. The screening programme should also be good value for money for the NHS.

Why there isn’t a screening programme for bile duct cancer in the UK?

There is no screening programme for bile duct cancer in the UK at the moment because:

  • doctors wouldn't find many cancers because it's so rare
  • there is no suitable test to use for bile duct cancer screening
  • current tests have risks that outweigh the benefits for most people
  • the cost of screening would be high

With rare cancers, it is more cost effective to screen people who are thought to be at a higher risk. Talk to your GP if you think you are at a higher than average risk of bile duct cancer. If your doctor agrees that you are at a higher risk, they may be able to give you regular check ups. 

Screening for people with primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC)

Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) is a rare disease that causes inflammation of the bile ducts. People with PSC have an increased risk of developing cancer of the bile ducts. 

You have regular check ups if you are diagnosed with PSC. You might have scans and blood tests regularly to check for signs of bile duct cancer. 

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

  • 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 

  • British Society of Gastroenterology and UK-PSC guidelines for the diagnosis and management of primary sclerosing cholangitis
    MH Chapman and others
    Gut, 2019. Vol 68, Issue 8. Pages 1356-1378

Last reviewed: 
27 Sep 2020
Next review due: 
27 Sep 2024

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