Cholangiocarcinoma (Bile Duct Cancer) Symptoms

Bile duct cancer symptoms are not usually apparent in the early stages of the condition, which is also known as cholangiocarcinoma. Additionally, there are currently no screening techniques that are reliable enough to be recommended for routine use in individuals who do not have symptoms. As is true for most types of cancer, cholangiocarcinoma outcomes can be improved with early detection. For these reasons, it is important to learn about the possible signs of bile duct cancer and to report anything unusual to a physician right away.

What are some common symptoms of bile duct cancer?

When bile duct cancer causes symptoms, the underlying reason is usually a bile duct blockage caused by a tumor. The liver produces bile, which contains a greenish-yellow substance called bilirubin. If an obstruction inhibits the release of bile from the liver, bilirubin can back up into the bloodstream and settle in different parts of the body. Some common signs of a bile duct blockage include:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes) – The signs of excess bilirubin are usually most apparent in the whites of the eyes and the skin.
  • Itching – High levels of bilirubin in the skin can cause the skin to itch.
  • Greasy and light-colored stools – Bilirubin aids in the digestion of fats and naturally darkens the stools. If bilirubin is prevented from reaching the intestines, the stools may be greasier, bulkier and lighter in color than usual.
  • Dark urine – High levels of bilirubin in the blood may be eliminated in the urine, turning it dark in color.
  • Abdominal pain – A bile duct blockage can sometimes cause discomfort, particularly on the right side of the abdomen below the ribs.

While fever, unexplained weight loss, nausea and vomiting are not common symptoms of bile duct cancer, they sometimes occur due to an infection (cholangitis) that results from a bile duct blockage. It’s important to keep in mind that bile duct cancer is relatively rare, and that these symptoms are more likely to be caused by something else, such as gallstones. Also, jaundice is more frequently attributed to hepatitis than cholangiocarcinoma. For any of these symptoms, however, it’s important to consult with an experienced medical professional who can provide an accurate diagnosis and individualized treatment. For this type of highly specialized expertise, many patients turn to Moffitt Cancer Center.

If you’d like to have possible bile duct cancer symptoms evaluated by the cholangiocarcinoma experts at Moffitt, you do not need a referral. Call 1-888-663-3488 or complete a new patient registration form online.