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Biliary Tract Cancer: A Guide for Patients


Guides for Patients are designed to assist patients, their relatives and caregivers to better understand the nature of different types of cancer and evaluate the best available treatment choices.

What is biliary tract cancer?

Biliary tract cancer is a cancer that forms in the cells of the bile ducts, gallbladder or ampulla of Vater. Cancer of the bile ducts is called cholangiocarcinoma and is classified depending on which part of the bile duct the cancer develops into intrahepatic (affects bile ducts within the liver), hilar (occurs at the junction of the left and right hepatic ducts) and extrahepatic (affects the common bile duct outside the liver). Gallbladder cancer originates in the cells of the gallbladder. Ampullary cancer develops in the ampulla of Vater, where bile ducts from the liver and pancreas join and enter the duodenum.

Beyond a definition of biliary cancer, in this guide for patients you will find answers to questions such as:   

  • What are the symptoms of biliary tract cancer?
  • How common is biliary tract cancer?
  • What causes biliary tract cancer?
  • How is biliary tract cancer diagnosed?
  • How will my treatment be determined?
  • What are the treatment options for biliary tract cancer?
  • Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma in younger patients
  • Clinical trials including molecular profiling
  • Additional interventions including stenting
  • What are the possible side effects of the treatments?
  • What happens after my treatment has finished?
  • Support groups

This guide has been prepared to help you, as well as your friends, family and caregivers, better understand biliary tract cancer and the treatments that are available.  The medical information described in this document is based on the ESMO Clinical Practice Guideline for biliary tract cancer, which is designed to help clinicians with the diagnosis and management of biliary tract cancer. We recommend that you ask your doctor about the tests and types of treatments available in your country for your type and stage of biliary tract cancer. Published in 2019

To enquire about permission to translate or support the distribution (in English or in a translated version) of the Patient Guides series, please send an e-mail to patient_guides@esmo.org

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