Bile duct cancer is also called cholangiocarcinoma. Doctors can group bile duct cancer in different ways. The most common way is by looking at where the cancer started.
Doctors can also group bile duct cancer based on the type of cell that the cancer started in.
Types of bile duct cancer by where the cancer starts
There are 3 types of bile duct cancer depending on where they start:
- intrahepatic bile duct cancers
- perihilar bile duct cancers
- distal extrahepatic bile duct cancers
This video shows where the bile ducts are and the different areas where bile duct cancer can develop. The video is 1 minute and 30 seconds long.
The gallbladder is a small organ tucked under the liver. It is a small, hollow pouch about 8cm long and 2.5cm wide and is connected to the liver and bowel by a series of tubes known as the bile ducts.
The liver makes bile which helps to break down fats from food. The gallbladder stores the bile until there are fats in the bowel that need digesting. Bile can also pass directly to the bowel from the liver. A sphincter controls the release of bile into the bowel.
Cancer of the gallbladder and bile ducts are rare in the UK. They are called biliary cancers.
Bile duct cancers are divided into 3 types depending on where they develop. Intrahepatic bile duct cancer forms inside the liver. Perihilar bile duct cancer forms just outside the liver where the right and left hepatic ducts meet. And distal bile duct cancer forms in the bile ducts that go through the pancreas to the small bowel.
Lymph nodes surround these organs and make up part of our immune system, helping us fight infections. They are often the first place cancer cells reach when they break away from a tumour.
For information about gallbladder and bile duct cancers go to cruk.org/cancer-types
Intrahepatic bile duct cancers
Intrahepatic bile duct cancers start inside the liver. There are a number of small bile ducts that join together inside the liver to form the left and right hepatic ducts.
This type of bile duct cancer is sometimes confused with a different type of cancer that starts in liver cells. These are called hepatocellular carcinoma.
Perihilar bile duct cancers
These are cancers that develop just outside the liver, including where the left and right hepatic ducts join together. They are also called Klatskin tumours or hilar cancers.
Distal extrahepatic bile duct cancers
These are cancers that start in the bile ducts below the perihilar region near the bowel.
Types of bile duct cancer by the type of cell that the cancer started in
More than 9 in every 10 bile duct cancers (more than 90%) start in the cells that line the bile ducts. These are called epithelial cells. This type of cancer is called epithelial adenocarcinoma (add-en-oh-car-sin-oh-ma).
There are a number of other types of bile duct cancer. These types of bile duct cancer are very rare and include:
- squamous cell carcinoma
Non cancerous bile duct tumours
Non cancerous (benign) tumours can also grow in the bile duct. They include bile duct adenoma and hamartomas.