Bile Duct Cancer

What is Bile Duct Cancer?

Bile ducts are tubes that transport fluid (bile) from the liver to the small intestine. They are part of the biliary system. Bile duct cancer develops from the cells in the lining of the duct. At first, the cancer usually grows along the walls of the ducts before growing into the walls. Left untreated, the cancer will spread and is life-threatening.

The cancer may spread by growing through the bile duct wall and spreading out into surrounding tissue, usually the liver and nearby lymph nodes. It may also spread to other parts of the body via the blood stream. When cancer cells from a bile duct tumour settle in another part of the body and start growing there, it is called secondary cancer or metastasis.

Bile duct cancer is also known as cholangiocarcinoma. When patients are diagnosed with bile duct cancer, their doctor will examine the lymph nodes around the biliary system in order to 'stage' the cancer.

The stages are as follows:

  • Stage 1A - the cancer is contained within the bile duct.
  • Stage 1B - the cancer has spread through the wall of the bile duct, but hasn't spread into nearby lymph nodes or other areas.
  • Stage 2A - the cancer has spread into the liver, pancreas or gall bladder or to the nearby blood vessels, but not the lymph nodes.
  • Stage 2B - the cancer has spread into nearby lymph nodes.
  • Stage 3 - the cancer is affecting the main blood vessels that take blood to and from the liver, or it has spread into the small or large bowel, the stomach or the abdominal wall. Lymph nodes in the abdomen may also be affected.
  • Stage 4 - the cancer has spread to distant parts of the body such as the lungs.