What Is Cholangiocarcinoma? A Quick Guide


An estimated 19.3 million people were diagnosed with cancer around the world. If you or your loved ones have been diagnosed, you’re not alone. Cancer is a global problem that can affect anyone.

Within the many types of cancer, cholangiocarcinoma, or bile duct cancer, is often overlooked. It can be difficult to find basic information on this relatively unknown cancer, but you should be informed about your body.

What is cholangiocarcinoma? Let’s take a look at the basics, symptoms, and treatments in this cholangiocarcinoma guide.

What Is Cholangiocarcinoma?

Cholangiocarcinoma is a metastatic bile duct cancer. Bile ducts are small tubes that carry bile between the liver and small intestine. As a result, the first stage of this cancer will begin to grow in these areas.

This cancer is rare with less than 40,000 cases per year in the US. Because of this and the lack of early symptoms, metastatic cholangiocarcinoma can be difficult to diagnose early.

Signs and Symptoms

You may not recognize cholangiocarcinoma immediately. This cancer doesn’t usually cause noticeable symptoms until it reaches an advanced stage. If the cancer is causing symptoms, it’s likely a complication relating to blockage around the bile duct.


  • Jaundice
  • Intense itchiness
  • Fever
  • Stomachaches
  • Bloating
  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss

Some of these symptoms can be from other health issues or even isolated problems. If you have more than one symptom or any persistent symptoms, tell a doctor about your concerns.

Risk Factors:

  • Chronic bile duct inflammation
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Any inflammatory disease
  • Over 50 years old
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes

If any of these factors apply to you, you’re at an increased risk for cholangiocarcinoma. Currently, the most significant known risk factor is chronic inflammation around the bile ducts.


Extrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma is the most common type, making up 90% of bile duct cancer. This means that the cancer is in a bile duct outside the liver.

Within this category, there are two subtypes: hilar bile duct cancer and distal bile duct cancer.

Hilar bile duct cancer forms in the two main bile ducts leaving the liver. This type accounts for most extrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma cases.

Distal bile duct cancer forms near the small intestine and pancreas.

Though rare, there are some cholangiocarcinoma types that develop within the liver. The location of the tumor will affect what symptoms you may experience.


There are several treatment options for cholangiocarcinoma depending on the type and stage of cancer.

Surgery is usually the best treatment option for cholangiocarcinoma. However, it’s most effective if the cancer hasn’t spread. If the cancer has spread, surgery may not be a good option.

For more advanced stages, radiation and chemotherapy may be better for treatment. Some people use radiation or chemotherapy in addition to surgery. Treatment is ultimately up to you and your doctor.

If you want to explore other cholangiocarcinoma treatment options, you should consider cholangiocarcinoma clinical trials. Clinical trials focus on research to develop a safer and more effective treatment.

When to See Your Doctor

What is cholangiocarcinoma? If you have more questions about cholangiocarcinoma symptoms or feel sick, you should talk to your primary care physician. They can give you a professional evaluation and medical advice to reach a diagnosis.

If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma, you should talk to your doctor about treatment. They can recommend any combination of the listed treatments for your cancer and symptoms.

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