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Cholangiocarcinoma is a rare cancer found in the tissue of the bile ducts, occurring in approximately two out of 100,000 people. Men and women are equally affected and most cases occur in people over age 65. The bile duct is a small tube that connects the liver and gallbladder to the small intestine. The ducts carry bile -- the liquid that helps break down fat in food during digestion — out of the liver.

Tumors can develop anywhere on the bile ducts and are typically slow growing. However, by the time a diagnosis usually is made, many of the tumors are too advanced to be surgically removed. Other conditions such as primary sclerosing cholangitis, bile duct cysts and chronic biliary irritation, are associated with an increased risk of cholangiocarcinoma.

Cholangiocarcinoma is a rare cancer found in the tissue of the bile ducts. Tumors produce symptoms by blocking the bile ducts. Common symptoms may include:

  • Clay colored stools
  • Jaundice, which is a yellowing of the skin and eyes
  • Itching
  • Abdominal pain that may extend to the back
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fever
  • Chills

Your doctor will first ask about your medical history and perform a physical examination. In addition, he or she may order the following tests:

  • Computed Tomography (CT) Scan: An X-ray that uses a computer to provide an image of the inside of the abdomen.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Scan: This test uses magnetic waves to create an image.
  • Ultrasound: This test uses high-frequency sound waves that echo off the body to create a picture.
  • Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP): During an ERCP, a flexible tube is inserted down the throat and into the stomach and small intestine. By injecting dye into the drainage tube of the pancreas, your doctor can see the area more clearly.
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Surgery and radiation therapy are the two most common treatments for cholangiocarcinoma.


If the cancer is small and has not spread beyond the bile duct, your doctor may remove the whole bile duct and make a new duct by connecting the duct openings in the liver to the intestine. Lymph nodes also will be removed and examined under the microscope to see if they contain cancer. If the cancer has spread and cannot be removed, your doctor may perform surgery to relieve symptoms.

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Gastroenterology at Mount Zion
1701 Divisadero St., Suite 120
San Francisco, CA 94115
Phone: (415) 502-4444
Fax: (415) 502-2249
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Gastroenterology at Parnassus
350 Parnassus Ave., Suite 410
San Francisco, CA 94143
Phone: (415) 502-2112
Fax: (415) 514-3300
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Gastrointestinal Motility & Secretion Center
400 Parnassus Ave., Box 0310
San Francisco, CA 94143-0310
Phone: (415) 353-9383
Fax: (415) 353-2505
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