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Bile duct cancer

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Chemotherapy for extrahepatic bile duct cancer

Chemotherapy is often used to treat extrahepatic bile duct cancer.

Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to treat cancer. It is usually a systemic therapy that circulates throughout the body and destroys cancer cells, including those that may have broken away from the primary tumour.

Chemotherapy has been shown to slow the growth of the cancer and improves the outcome of people with extrahepatic bile duct cancer.

Chemotherapy may be used:

  • to relieve pain or to control the symptoms of advanced extrahepatic bile duct cancer (palliative chemotherapy)
    • Chemotherapy may be offered for unresectable or extrahepatic metastatic bile duct cancer.
  • as a treatment for extrahepatic bile duct cancer that comes back (recurs) after treatment
  • with radiation therapy to make it more effective (radiosensitizer drugs)
  • after surgery to destroy cancer cells left behind and to reduce the risk of the cancer recurring (adjuvantadjuvantTreatment given in addition to the first-line therapy (the first or standard treatment) to help reduce the risk of a disease (such as cancer) coming back (recurring). chemotherapy)

Drugs, doses and schedules vary from person to person.

Chemotherapy drugs

Chemotherapy drugs may be used alone or in combination. The most common chemotherapy drugs used to treat extrahepatic bile duct cancer are:

  • gemcitabine (Gemzar)
  • capecitabine (Xeloda)
  • cisplatin (Platinol AQ)
  • 5-fluorouracil (5-FU, Adrucil)

The most common chemotherapy combinations used to treat bile duct cancer are:

  • gemcitabine and cisplatin
  • gemcitabine and capecitabine
  • gemcitabine and 5-fluorouracil
  • 5-fluorouracil and cisplatin


Chemotherapy drugs may also be combined with radiation therapy to make the cancer cells more sensitive to the effects of radiation. These drugs are called radiosensitizers. The drugs used most often are 5-fluorouracil or capecitabine. Giving radiation therapy and chemotherapy together is called chemoradiation.

For more detailed information on specific drugs, go to sources of drug information.

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


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