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Bile Duct Cancer (Cholangiocarcinoma)


A bile duct cancer diagnosis can be stressful. World-class gastrointestinal cancer experts at Penn Medicine are here with prompt answers and personal attention. Our multidisciplinary approach ensures your treatment plan is highly personalized just for you.

About Bile Duct Cancer

Bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma) develops within the small tubes (bile ducts) that move bile fluid among GI organs and help your body digest food. It can affect the ducts inside (intrahepatic) or outside (extrahepatic) the liver.

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Bile duct cancer is rare, but at Penn Medicine, our GI cancer specialists have the experience to treat it. We offer compassion and customized care for even the most complex cases. We stay in close contact with you during your treatment and ensure you can reach us at any time through our easy-to-navigate patient portal, myPennMedicine.

When you choose us for cancer care, you can expect:

  • Experienced specialists: Doctors with subspecialty fellowship training focus all their time on treating bile duct and similar cancers. Other centers in the region regularly refer patients to us because we can often treat complicated cases they consider inoperable. Meet our GI cancer team.
  • Precise diagnosis: We use advanced genetic and molecular profiling tests to evaluate and stage bile duct cancer. Pathologists with experience assessing rare bile duct cancers then assess every tumor. These steps lead your doctors to the right treatments for you. Learn more about bile duct cancer diagnosis.
  • Specialized therapies: We are leaders in the most innovative treatment options, such as proton therapy (a precise radiation therapy that’s not widely available) and hepatic artery pumps. We also perform liver transplants where the Penn Transplant Institute is the only center in the region to offer this treatment for bile duct cancer. Our robust research program gives you access to additional treatment options through clinical trials.
  • Team approach: Treatment for bile duct cancer often involves multiple therapies, such as surgery plus chemotherapy or chemotherapy plus radiation. Our surgeons, medical oncologists and radiation oncologists understand these complex treatment decisions. They collaborate and hold weekly multidisciplinary liver tumor board meetings to customize a treatment plan to your needs.
  • Personalized support: Our nurse navigators serve as a resource to help you easily get the care you need. Learn more about navigating GI cancer.
  • Cancer expertise, close to home: Specialists at different Penn locations work together to ensure you receive top-notch cancer expertise wherever you seek care. You can find us in Philadelphia at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and at our hospitals and outpatient centers throughout the region.

Our Approach to Bile Duct Cancer Treatment: The Penn Medicine Advantage

Cancer research evolves at a fast pace. You can trust our team to follow advances in bile duct cancer therapies and develop a treatment plan based on leading-edge treatments.

Bile duct cancer treatment typically involves multiple therapies:

  • Surgery: Most bile duct cancers require surgery to achieve remission. Our surgeons successfully perform intricate procedures, often working as a team on complicated cases that impact multiple organs or blood vessels. Some patients may benefit from a liver transplant, which eligible patients can pursue through the Penn Transplant Institute comprehensive liver transplant program.
  • Chemotherapy: Your doctor may recommend you receive chemotherapy drugs before or after surgery. Some patients may benefit from a hepatic artery infusion pump, which delivers a high dose of medication directly to the liver. Penn is one of only a handful of centers in the country to offer this advanced therapy.
  • Liver-directed therapies: Our experienced interventional radiologists are experts in using minimally invasive techniques and advanced imaging to destroy cancer cells with electrical currents or heat. Our team has special expertise in managing cancer-related bile duct obstructions.
  • Immunotherapy: These drugs use your body’s immune system to stop cancer from growing.
  • Targeted therapy: These medications target specific changes in cancer cells that allow them to grow and spread. We use specialized tests to match you with therapies that are right for you.
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy uses powerful beams of energy to destroy cancer cells. We offer advanced types of radiation therapy (like targeted proton therapy) that are not widely available.
  • Clinical trials: Our scientists pursue many types of cancer research, which may provide you with new treatment options not available elsewhere. Read about our GI cancer research.
  • Supportive care: Supportive therapies, including palliative care and counseling, focus on managing the many ways cancer impacts your life. Learn more about GI cancer support services.

Personalized Bile Duct Cancer Surveillance

We help you protect your long-term health by following you closely after treatment ends. Your doctor may recommend periodic screenings or check-ups to detect changes that require treatment. A dedicated program for GI cancer patients who have had radiation therapy makes it easier to address any long-term side effects of radiation.

Request an Appointment

Call 215-615-5858 to speak with a knowledgeable cancer center representative who can guide you to the right bile duct cancer expert for your needs. You can also request an appointment online.