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Radiotherapy for bile duct cancer

You might have radiotherapy to:

  • lower the risk of your cancer coming back after surgery
  • relieve your symptoms

Lowering the risk of cancer coming back

Your surgeon might suggest you have radiotherapy if they think that cancer cells might be left behind after your surgery to remove bile duct cancer. Some people have radiotherapy with chemotherapy. Doctors call this chemoradiotherapy.  

Doctors are not completely sure how much radiotherapy or chemoradiotherapy after surgery helps lower the risk of cancer coming back. We need results from more clinical trials before we will know how useful it is.

Relieving symptoms

Your doctor might suggest that you have radiotherapy to help relieve symptoms if you have had bypass surgery.

Your doctor might also suggest radiotherapy if you can’t have surgery. Having radiotherapy can help to shrink the cancer or slow its growth in some people. It can also help to control symptoms such as pain.

Researchers are also looking at whether having radiotherapy after chemotherapy is a useful treatment for people with locally advanced bile duct cancer.

Types of radiotherapy for bile duct cancer

Radiotherapy uses high energy x-rays to treat cancer cells. A specialised radiotherapy machine aims the radiation beams at the cancer. This is called external beam radiotherapy.

There are different types of external radiotherapy. Your doctor decides which is best for you.

You are most likely to have conformal radiotherapy or intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT). These shape the radiation beams to closely fit the area of the cancer.

Researchers are also looking into a type of radiotherapy called stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) for bile duct cancer. This gives 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. 

Last reviewed: 
19 Feb 2018
  • Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (10th edition)
    VT De Vita, TS Lawrence and SA Rosenberg
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2015

  • 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

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