Feb 18, 2022 9:00 AM

Read time: 2 minutes

John Morris, MD, SCM
John Morris, MD, SCM

About 8,000 people are diagnosed with bile duct cancer each year. But the actual number of cases is likely to be higher, because these cancers can be hard to diagnose, and some might be misclassified as other types of cancer. To learn more about bile duct cancer, its symptoms, and diagnosis, we spoke with John Morris, MD, SCM, a gastroenterologist (GI).

What is bile duct cancer?

Bile duct cancer is a disease where cancerous cells form in bile duct tissue. The bile duct is a network of tubes in your abdomen. These tubes connect your liver and gallbladder to your small intestine.

Am I at an increased risk for bile duct cancer?

The following are risk factors for bile duct cancer:

  • History of liver or bile duct diseases
  • Over the age of 60
  • Obesity
  • Family history of bile duct cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Exposure to Thorotrast
    • Thorotrast was a contrast agent for x-rays used until the 1950’s. It is no longer used today.

If I have a family member who had bile duct cancer, am I more likely to get it?

Yes, there is an increased risk for bile cancer if you have a family history. This type of cancer is very rare. While family history increases your risk for getting this type of cancer, the chances of you getting it is still very rare.

Is there a screening to detect bile duct cancer?

Some patients with a history of bile duct disease will have MRI imaging look for early changes. No screening is available for bile duct cancer for the general population. If you are experiencing symptoms or are at an increased risk, talk with your doctor. They can address any symptoms and do further tests. Tests may include imaging or lab work.

What are symptoms of bile duct cancer?

Symptoms of bile duct cancer include:

  • Yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Clay-colored stool
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Fever
  • Itchy skin
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weight loss for an unknown reason

Many other health problems can also cause these signs. They may indicate a different health problem and do not always indicate bile duct cancer. Talk with your doctor if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.

What are my next steps if I think I have bile duct cancer?

If you are concerned you have bile duct cancer, talk with your doctor. If you want to see a specialist, make an appointment with a GI. To schedule an appointment with a GI at the University of Utah health, call 801-213-9797.

gastrointestinal cancer health education

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