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Bile duct cancer

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Treatment of extrahepatic bile duct cancer

Treatment for extrahepatic bile duct cancer is given by cancer specialists (oncologists). Some specialize in surgery, some in radiation therapy and others in chemotherapy (drugs). These doctors work with the person with cancer to decide on a treatment plan.

Treatment plans are designed to meet the unique needs of each person with cancer. Treatment decisions for extrahepatic bile duct cancer are based on:

  • whether the tumour can be removed by surgery (is resectable)
  • the stage
    • Often bile duct cancer is not found until it is at an advanced stage and cannot be completely removed by surgery.
  • the person's overall health
  • the person's age

Treatment options for extrahepatic bile duct cancer

  • surgery
    • Surgery is the most effective treatment for extrahepatic bile duct cancer.
    • The type of surgery depends on the location and extent of the cancer.
    • Surgery may include removing the bile duct and doing:
      • a partial hepatectomy for perihilar (proximal) bile duct tumours
      • a pancreatoduodenectomy (Whipple procedure) for distal bile duct tumours
    • Lymph nodes may be removed during surgery.
    • Palliative surgery or procedures may be done to relieve symptoms of advanced bile duct cancer. This may include inserting a biliary stent or doing a biliary bypass to help drain bile and to prevent infection when the tumour blocks the flow of bile.
  • radiation therapy
    • Radiation therapy may be used to relieve symptoms of advanced extrahepatic bile duct cancer.
    • Radiation therapy may be given after surgery in some cases.
  • chemotherapy
    • Chemotherapy is used to treat extrahepatic bile duct cancer that cannot be removed by surgery.
    • Chemotherapy may be used with radiation therapy for advanced extrahepatic bile duct cancer.
    • Chemotherapy is sometimes given after surgery.
  • follow-up after treatment is finished
    • Follow-up for extrahepatic bile duct cancer varies depending on the treatments used and the person's prognosis.

Clinical trials

Clinical trials investigate better ways to prevent, detect and treat cancer. There are some clinical trials in Canada that are open to people with extrahepatic bile duct cancer. Bile duct cancer trials may be included in trials for gallbladder cancer, other gastrointestinal cancers, or advanced or metastatic cancer. For more information, go to clinical trials.

See a list of questions to ask your doctor about treatment.

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