Symptoms & Risks

What is bile duct cancer or cholangiocarcinoma?

Cancer that starts in the system of tubes or ducts that drain bile out of the liver to the intestine are known as bile duct cancers or cholangiocarcinoma. It can start anywhere along the ducts that transport bile, including:

  • Outside the liver
  • Between the liver and intestine
  • Inside the pancreas

What are the symptoms of bile duct cancer?

The bile ducts where these tumors start are small and will get blocked by the tumor, causing bile to back up and then build up in the bloodstream. During the early part of the blockage, the bile may show up in the urine, making it dark. It will then show in the skin and eyes, causing someone to turn a yellow color. This is known as jaundice. Symptoms may include:

  • Darkened urine
  • Jaundice
  • Localized pain
  • Weight loss
  • Indigestion

If the tumor is in the small branches of the bile ducts that are located on the outside edges of the liver, jaundice may not develop because the bile can drain from other parts of the liver. These tumors are usually easier to treat with surgery, but may not be discovered until late because there are few symptoms.