Research into bile duct cancer

Researchers in the UK are trying to improve the diagnosis and treatment of bile duct cancer. Bile duct cancer is also called cholangiocarcinoma.

Go to Cancer Research UK’s clinical trials database if you are looking for a trial for bile duct cancer in the UK. You need to talk to your specialist if there are any trials that you might be able to take part in.

Some of the trials on this page have now stopped recruiting people. It takes time before the results are available. This is because the trial team follow the patients for a period of time and collect and analyse the results. We have included this ongoing research to give examples of the type of research being carried out in bile duct cancer

Click on the ‘recruiting’, ‘closed’ and ‘results’ tabs to see all the trials.

Research and clinical trials

All cancer treatments must be fully researched before they can be used for everyone. This is so we can be sure that:

  • they work
  • they work better than the treatments already available
  • they are safe

Research into the diagnosis of bile duct cancer

Cancer of the bile ducts is often diagnosed at an advanced stage. Researchers want to find better ways of diagnosing this type of cancer, and at an earlier stage. They are looking at:

  • new tests that look for proteins that may act as cancer markers (tumour markers Open a glossary item)
  • a different type of scan to see whether it can pick up tumours in the liver more clearly
  • a blood test that can pick up small amounts of cancer DNA Open a glossary item. This is the SYMPLIFY study

The SYMPLIFY study is looking at a new blood test that could detect a range of cancers, including bile duct cancer. The test is called the Galleri blood test. You cannot ask to join this study. You may be invited to take part when you attend your appointment at the hospital.

Research into the treatment of bile duct cancer

There are some clinical trials in the UK looking at treatment for bile duct cancer. Researchers are looking at:

  • chemotherapy
  • radiotherapy
  • targeted cancer drugs

You may have these treatments alone or in combination.


Chemotherapy uses cytotoxic drugs to destroy cancer cells. It is the main treatment for advanced bile duct cancer.

Researchers are looking into:

  • chemotherapy after surgery
  • different chemotherapy drugs for advanced bile duct cancer

Chemotherapy after surgery

Chemotherapy after surgery is called adjuvant treatment. It is a common treatment for different types of cancer. Adjuvant chemotherapy can help to stop bile duct cancer from coming back.

In the UK, you usually have a chemotherapy drug called capecitabine after surgery for bile duct cancer. This is the standard treatment. Researchers are now looking at different combinations of chemotherapy drugs to see if they work better than capecitabine. They also want to find out what their side effects are.

Chemotherapy for advanced bile duct cancer

You usually have a combination of cisplatin and gemcitabine for advanced bile duct cancer. But researchers in the UK and around the world continue to look for new drugs or different combinations of drugs. New chemotherapy combinations include:

  • oxaliplatin and fluorouracil (5FU)
  • cisplatin and a new drug called Acelarin

Researchers are also looking at giving chemotherapy with other treatments such as radiotherapy.


Radiotherapy uses high energy x-rays to treat cancer cells. It isn’t a common treatment for bile duct cancer.

Researchers continue to look at new and different ways of giving radiotherapy for bile duct cancer. And to learn more about the side effects and how to reduce them.

Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT)

SBRT is a way of giving radiotherapy from many different positions around the body. The cancer receives high doses of radiation, but the surrounding tissues only get a low dose. This lowers the risk of side effects.

Some researchers are looking at giving SBRT after treatment with the chemotherapy drugs cisplatin and gemcitabine.

Targeted cancer drugs

Targeted cancer drugs work by targeting differences that a cancer cell has that help them to survive and grow. They are a common treatment for different types of cancer.

Researchers are looking into different types of targeted drugs for bile duct cancer. Targeted cancer drugs that they are currently looking at include:

  • pembrolizumab
  • lenvatinib
  • derazantinib
  • durvalumab
  • entrectinib
  • infigratinib
  • zanidatamab
  • futibatinib
  • Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (10th edition)
    VT De Vita, TS Lawrence and SA Rosenberg
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2015

  • Biliary cancer: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow up
    JW Valle and others
    Annals of Oncology, 2016. Volume 27, Supplement 5, Pages 28 - 37

  • Cancer Research UK's clinical trials database
    Last accessed November 2021

    US National Library of Medicine
    Last accessed November 2021

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

  • Cholangiocarcinoma 2020: the next horizon in mechanisms and management
    J M Banales and others
    Nature reviews gastroenterology & hepatology, 2020. Vol 17, Pages 557-588

Last reviewed: 
26 Jan 2022
Next review due: 
26 Jan 2025

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