Canadian Cancer Society logo

Bile duct cancer

You are here: 

Treatment of recurrent extrahepatic bile duct cancer

The following are treatment options for recurrent extrahepatic bile duct cancer. The types of treatments given are based on the unique needs of the person with cancer.

Treatment for recurrent perihilar bile duct cancer and recurrent distal bile duct cancer depends on:

  • what kind of treatment was previously given, if any
  • where the cancer recurred
  • the person’s overall health

Recurrent extrahepatic bile duct cancer is usually unresectable (cannot be removed by surgery), so it is often treated in the same way as an unresectable extrahepatic bile duct cancer. Treatment is usually palliative.

Palliative surgery or procedures

Palliative surgery or procedures are not used to remove the tumour. Instead, palliative treatment is given to relieve the signs and symptoms of advanced bile duct cancer, such as:

  • jaundicejaundiceA condition in which the skin and whites of the eyes become yellow and urine is dark yellow. – occurs when cancer blocks the bile duct and stops the flow of bile
  • pain and inflammation of the bile ducts (cholangitis) – caused by a tumour blocking the bile duct
  • abdominal pain – caused by cancer in the liver or other organs or structures in the abdomen

Palliative surgery or procedures may include:

  • placing a small wire or plastic tube (stent) to keep the bile duct open and drain the liver
  • inserting a tube (catheter) to drain bile
  • doing a biliary bypass to change the flow of bile


Chemotherapy is used for unresectable recurrent extrahepatic bile duct cancer. Chemotherapy drugs called radiosensitizers may also be combined with radiation therapy to make the cancer cells more sensitive to the effects of radiation.

Radiation therapy

External beam radiation therapy may be offered for recurrent extrahepatic bile duct cancer to relieve pain and other symptoms. If the person had radiation therapy before, they may not be able to receive it in the same treatment area. This is because the tissues can only tolerate a certain amount of radiation therapy.

Brachytherapy may also be offered in some situations. It may be used in combination with external beam radiation therapy.

Clinical trials

People with extrahepatic bile duct cancer may be offered the opportunity to participate in clinical trials. For more information, go to clinical trials.


Marie Whitehead Catch the cancer early. That’s the number one thing. It could save your life.

Read Marie's story

Cancer information in over a hundred languages

Illustration of question mark

The Canadian Cancer Society’s Cancer Information Service (CIS) is Canada’s only national, bilingual, toll-free service that offers personalized comprehensive cancer information in over 100 languages.

Learn more