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Bile Duct Cancer

Your gastrointestinal system includes a group of ducts (bile ducts) that connect your gallbladder, liver and small intestine. Sometimes, cancer forms in these ducts. University of Michigan Health Rogel Cancer Center experts use their extensive experience and knowledge to treat all bile duct cancer types.

Bile Duct Cancer Care: Why Choose Rogel Cancer Center?

We diagnose and treat bile duct cancers in our multidisciplinary liver tumor clinic. You have access to a range of specialists who are experts in treating these cancers. Program highlights include:

  • Personalized care: We get to know you and understand your treatment goals. Our experts work together — and with you — to develop the care plan that’s right for you. Meet our team.
  • Sophisticated treatments: Our experts treat bile duct cancer (also known as cholangiocarcinoma) with the latest techniques. We offer chemoembolization, radioembolization, image-guided ablation, stereotactic body radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
  • Leading-edge research: We offer clinical trials of new therapies for bile duct cancer. At Rogel Cancer Center, eligible patients have access to these advanced treatments for cholangiocarcinoma.
  • Hope and comfort: Our specialists offer hope for complex cancers. We provide reconstructive services when we must remove part of the bile duct network (biliary tree) to help preserve your digestive function.

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About Bile Duct Cancers

The digestive system’s network of connecting bile ducts begins in the liver. Smaller ducts join to form the liver’s right and left hepatic ducts. These hepatic ducts then join just outside the liver to form the common hepatic duct. Another duct (cystic duct) connects the common hepatic duct to the gallbladder.

Cancer can form in the cells that line any of these ducts. Our liver cancer experts diagnose and treat:

  • Extrahepatic bile duct cancer: Cancers that form in the ducts outside the liver. Depending on where cancer is located, these cancers are called:
    • Distal bile duct cancer: Cancer that forms where the common bile duct goes through the pancreas and meets the small intestine
    • Perihilar bile duct cancer: Cancer that forms where the right and left bile ducts form the common hepatic duct
  • Intrahepatic bile duct cancer: Cancers that form in the ducts inside the liver. These cancers are less common than extrahepatic bile duct cancers.

Rogel Cancer Center specialists diagnose bile duct cancer with a range of tests. We begin by asking about your medical history and any symptoms you have. Bile duct cancer symptoms include:

  • Dark urine
  • Fever
  • Itching
  • Light (clay colored) stool
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Yellow skin or eyes (jaundice)

Depending on your symptoms, our specialists may recommend a liver function test. This blood test measures certain chemicals produced by your liver. Elevated levels of these chemicals may indicate that cancer is present. We may use other blood tests to look for tumor markers — chemicals your body releases when cancer grows.

Our experts also use imaging tests to see detailed images of your bile ducts, liver and gallbladder. We may use:

  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: This special X-ray test creates detailed images of your abdomen and internal organs.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): We use a computer, radio waves and magnets to create images of your bile ducts and liver. Our radiology experts interpret these images to determine if tumors are present. We also look for blocked blood vessels around your liver.
  • Ultrasound: We move a probe (transducer) over the skin of your abdomen. This probe uses sound waves to create pictures of your bile ducts and liver.

If imaging tests show that a tumor is growing, our experts may take a small sample of tissue (biopsy). Our expert pathologists look at the tissue sample under a microscope to confirm cancer.

Bile Duct Cancer Treatment at Rogel Cancer Center

Our liver cancer experts use different options to treat bile duct cancer. We talk with you to understand your goals for treatment and recommend a personalized care plan for your specific needs. We offer:

Bile duct cancer surgery

Many people with bile duct cancer are treated with surgery. Our expert team reviews your test results and recommends surgery if it’s the right option for you. You may have:

  • Bile duct removal: Specialists remove part of the bile duct if tumors are small and have not grown outside the duct.
  • Partial hepatectomy: We remove part of the liver containing the cancerous bile duct.
  • Whipple procedure: Experts remove part of the pancreas, the gallbladder, part of the stomach and small intestine, as well as the bile duct.

You may have chemotherapy or radiation after surgery to help make sure cancer doesn’t return. Other surgical procedures, known as palliative surgery, may help relieve symptoms of bile duct cancer when tumors can’t be removed.

Interventional oncology for bile duct cancer

Interventional oncologists use advanced techniques to deliver cancer-fighting medication directly to tumors. In chemoembolization, experts insert a thin flexible tube (catheter) into the bile duct. They inject tiny beads, seeds or pellets containing chemotherapy drugs to deliver chemotherapy to the tumor site.

Radiation therapy for bile duct cancer

Our radiation oncology experts use radiation therapies to destroy cholangiocarcinoma. We may also use ablation techniques to shrink tumors. We offer:

  • External beam radiation therapy: Experts use a machine to target bile duct tumors with energy beams that destroy cancer cells.
  • Image-guided ablation: We use imaging such as computed tomography (CT) or ultrasound to guide insertion of a thin probe into the tumor. We deliver energy to the tumor to destroy cancerous tissue.
  • Internal radiation therapy: Specialists place tiny radioactive beads, seeds or pellets into the bile duct near the tumor to deliver radiation. This therapy is also called radioembolization.
  • Stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT): We use an image-guided computer system to deliver potent radiation doses directly to bile duct tumors.

Systemic therapy for bile duct cancer

When surgery isn’t possible, our experts use powerful medications to destroy tumors. We use chemotherapy drugs to help kill cancer cells. We place a thin flexible tube in your vein (IV) to infuse chemotherapy drugs into your bloodstream.

Our specialists may also recommend:

  • Immunotherapy: Drugs that help your immune system recognize and attack cancer cells
  • Targeted therapy: Drugs that destroy cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone

GI Cancer Clinical Trials

We never stop searching for better ways to treat bile duct cancer and other GI cancer types. Clinical trials give you access to the newest cancer therapies. Learn more about our GI cancer clinical trials and whether you might be eligible to participate.

Multidisciplinary Liver Cancer Care

The specialists at Rogel Cancer Center work together to treat all types of liver cancer in our multidisciplinary clinics. Our specialist team offers access to expert diagnoses and the most advanced treatments for liver cancers. The multidisciplinary approach at Rogel Cancer Center ensures you benefit from our team’s years of training, skill and experience.

Find GI Cancer Support Services

Talk to our patient navigators when you need information and support. GI cancer support services at Rogel Cancer Center are available to you after bile duct cancer diagnosis and throughout treatment.

Request an Appointment

Learn more about how we diagnose and treat bile duct cancer at Rogel Cancer Center. Call 734-647-8902 to make an appointment.