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Surgery to relieve symptoms

Find out about surgery to relieve symptoms of bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma). 

Symptom relief

Surgery can be used to help relieve symptoms, if your cancer can’t be removed fully. But this is not common.

A blockage in the bile duct can cause a build up of bile in the blood. This is called jaundice and can cause:

  • yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes
  • itching
  • feeling sick
  • weakness and lack of energy
  • a feeling of discomfort and wind

Some people with distal bile duct cancer have a blockage where the stomach joins the small bowel (the duodenum). This can stop the stomach emptying. The symptoms include feeling and being sick.

Stents

The most common way to relieve a blockage is to put a tube into the bile duct or duodenum. The tube is called a stent. The stent holds the bile duct or duodenum open and allows the bile or stomach contents to flow again.

Surgery

Your surgeon may suggest that you have surgery to bypass the blockage if you can’t have a stent or if a stent hasn't worked.

This is abdominal surgery so you will have a wound on your tummy (abdomen). Your surgeon connects the area above the blockage to part of the small bowel called the jejunum. They call this operation bypass surgery.

After abdominal surgery you need to stay in hospital for at least a few days while you start to get over the operation. This type of surgery nearly always works well in relieving symptoms and helps to improve your quality of life. It is a big operation though and isn't suitable for everyone. Your doctor will talk to you about the risks and benefits of having the operation.

Last reviewed: 
12 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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