The bile ducts extend from the liver to the first part of the small intestine (the duodenum) and allows bile (made in the liver) to drain to the duodenum to help digest food. Cancers of the bile duct may occur at any point between the liver and the duodenum and usually present with signs of biliary obstruction which include jaundice, fever and occasionally pain. Most bile duct cancers develop from the lining cells of the bile duct although rare tumours (neuroendocrine tumours) develop from nerve-like cells in the bile duct wall. Approximately 250 bile duct cancers are diagnosed annually in Aotearoa New Zealand.

What does bile duct cancer look like?

Bile duct cancers usually have the appearance of a narrowing in the bile duct and can look very similar to scar tissue making cancer challenging to diagnose. Occasionally bile duct tumours will also have the appearance of a polyp and appear to expand the bile duct rather than narrow it.


Generally, patients undergo both CT and MRI scans and often specialised procedures to relive obstruction.

The treatment of bile duct cancers is complex and involves surgical removal of the bile duct with the creation of a new drainage pathway for bile into the small intestine.

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