What are the symptoms of bile duct cancer?

A patient in hospital awaiting tests  (Getty)
A patient in hospital awaiting tests (Getty)

Bile duct cancer, also known as cholangiocarcinoma, is a cancer of the small tubes that connect the liver and gallbladder to the small bowel within your digestive system and carry the bile we use to break down food.

How serious the condition is depends on where precisely the tumour is located, its size and spread and the overall impact it is having on your health, according to the NHS.

Symptoms associated with bile duct cancer are various, can be difficult to spot and might include:

  • Yellowing of the skin or the whites of your eyes

  • Itchy skin

  • Darker urine or paler faeces

  • Loss of appetite or sudden weight loss

  • Feeling listless or lacking energy

  • High temperature or feverishness

  • Nausea or stomach pains

Because many of these symptoms are also associated with other illnesses, bile duct cancer can be difficult to diagnose but you are advised to call NHS 111 or see a local GP if any of the above are giving you cause for concern.

A doctor is likely to feel your stomach for pain, may propose a blood test or send you to a hospital to see a specialist for further tests if they believe your condition to be serious.

These might include additional blood tests, ultrasound, CT or MRI scans, biopsies, endoscopic retrograde cholangio pancreatography or a PTC X-ray.

These tests can also detect other problems with your digestive organs, such as your pancreas, gallbladder or liver, so could prove beneficial beyond confirming or disproving the presence of tumours, although patients are warned it can take several weeks for the results to come through.

According to the health service, anyone can get bile duct cancer and its cause is not always clear, although the over-65s are thought to be more likely to be susceptible.

That said, certain medical conditions including abnormal bile ducts, long term swelling of the bowel or bile ducts, a parasite in the liver, bile duct stones and cirrhosis could all play a role in its onset, the NHS states.

The condition is treatable by means such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy but which is attempted depends greatly on the location and state of the cancerous cells in question.

For more information, please visit Macmillan Cancer Support.