Our experienced team treats cholangiocarcinoma

Gastroenterologists and oncologists at Ascension Wisconsin sites of care specialize in treating bile duct cancer, also called cholangiocarcinoma.

Bile duct cancer care at Ascension Wisconsin

Call 414-298-7133

Your bile ducts are slender tubes that carry digestive fluid and are located inside and outside of the liver. The bile ducts connect the liver to the gallbladder. Jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and eyes, is the most common symptom of bile duct cancer and is also a symptom of other GI tract conditions, like hepatitis and gallbladder disease.

Our experienced GI cancer care team is here to help. We listen to understand you and your health concerns. And provide diagnostic tests and advanced care options for bile duct cancer and other types of abdominal cancer.

Common bile duct cancer symptoms


If you have had certain stomach, bowel or liver diseases, such as primary sclerosing cholangitis, bile duct infections or cirrhosis, you may be at higher risk for cholangiocarcinoma. Some adults experience no symptoms, but may have a family history of cancer. Signs and symptoms of bile duct cancer include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Intense itchy skin
  • Jaundice
  • Light-colored, greasy stool
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • General discomfort (malaise)
  • Dark urine
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Other symptoms of liver dysfunction, such as fluid build-up in your stomach (ascites), throwing up blood, bloody or dark, tarry stools, and easy bruising.

Treatment and therapies for bile duct disease

Bile duct cancer may also affect your liver function. Our doctors and care team deliver non-surgical and surgical treatment options to treat bile duct cancer and help prevent liver failure. Our experienced surgeons specialize in liver resection surgery and the Whipple procedure to remove tumors and treat other disorders of the pancreas, intestine and bile duct. Follow-up treatment may include chemotherapy and radiation therapy. At Ascension, our network of cancer specialists include gastroenterologists, surgeons, medical oncologists and radiation oncologists and a care team offering supportive cancer services.

We also offer targeted non-surgical therapies, including:

  • Chemotherapy
  • External beam radiotherapy
  • Trans-arterial chemoembolization (TACE)

Surgical therapies for cholangiocarcinoma

When possible, surgical resection is the only option that offers a potential cure for patients with cholangiocarcinoma. The extent of surgery depends upon the location and severity of the bile duct cancer.

  • Cancers located in the distal bile duct near the pancreas are removed with a Whipple operation. This consists of removal of the bile duct, the first portion of the small intestine (duodenum), and the head of the pancreas. Connections to the remaining bile duct, stomach and pancreas are then created.
  • Cancers in the mid bile duct are removed by liver resection, removing the bile duct and the lymph nodes surrounding the bile duct.
  • Cancers located within the bile ducts in the liver are removed with liver resection and removing the lymph nodes surrounding the bile duct.

Chemotherapy or radiation can be used after surgery to decrease the likelihood of the cancer returning.

Non-surgical therapies for cholangiocarcinoma

  • External beam radiotherapy: Precision radiation technology targets the tumor and helps prevent exposure to healthy tissue.
  • Systemic chemotherapy: Standard chemotherapy for cholangiocarcinoma includes Gemcitabine® and Cisplatin®. Several other drug combinations may be used if other treatment options have failed. These therapies help control bile duct cancer both in and outside the liver.
  • Transarterial embolization therapy: Micro-size beads are coated with high doses of the chemo-drug and delivered to the tumor site to destroy cancer cells.

Cancer clinical trials

Ascension Wisconsin cancer centers and medical researchers participate in ongoing clinical trials. To learn more about a clinical trial, contact the Ascension Wisconsin Research Institute by calling 414-635-6420 or emailing AWRI.Inquiry@ascension.org.

Ascension Wisconsin has a network of cancer care services close to home.