Bile duct cancer, also called cholangiocarcinoma, is rare and occurs in the ducts that carry bile from the liver to the small intestine. These tumors tend to grow slowly, are challenging to diagnose, and one of the more aggressive cancers to treat.  

There are three types of cholangiocarcinoma, determined by location in the bile duct:

  • Intrahepatic: Tumors grow inside the biliary system inside the liver. 
  • Hilar: Tumors develop in the bile duct just outside of the liver. 
  • Distal: Tumors occur further down the bile duct closer to the bowel.

Diagnosis is mainly done via tissue sampling. Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography Procedure (ERCP) is the main method of obtaining cells from the bile duct to diagnose cholangiocarcinoma. ERCP is also used as a procedure to relieve obstruction in the interim of getting all of your treatment planning prepared and scheduled.

Treatment options depend on the tumor's size and stage, so it is essential to undergo a thorough evaluation by an experienced, multidisciplinary team of clinicians in the Pancreas and Liver Diseases Program at MedStar Health.

Treatment options may include:

  • Surgery: If tumors are small and caught early, your doctor may be able to eliminate all of the cancer cells by removing part of the bile duct. If the cancer has advanced, your doctor may need to remove some liver tissue, as well. Bile duct cancer surgery may be performed in conjunction with radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or both.
  • Ablation: Ablation aims high levels of heat at the tumor to destroy its cancerous cells.

As with all of our treatment teams, our gastrointestinal surgical oncology team is dedicated to working closely with you and your family in healing and recovery.

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Awards & Recognitions

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The MedStar Georgetown University Hospital Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center is the only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated comprehensive cancer center in the Washington, D.C. region.

Related Resources

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