In the early stages, you may not have any symptoms from bile duct cancer. Sometimes, it’s diagnosed when you’re having tests for something else. Or when you have a general check up because you have another liver condition, such as hepatitis or cirrhosis.
If you do have symptoms, they may be quite vague. You may:
- feel sick
- lose your appetite
Of course, these symptoms could be caused by many things other than cancer. But if you feel unwell all or most of the time, contact your GP.
Other symptoms of bile duct cancer are caused by the cancer blocking the flow of bile. This causes jaundice (say: jawn-diss) – yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes. Because bile is backed up in the liver, you can’t get rid of bilirubin (the waste product from recycling red blood cells). So the bilirubin collects in the bloodstream and other body tissues, causing the yellowing.
Jaundice is very common in bile duct cancer. It happens in 9 out of 10 patients (90%) with extrahepatic bile duct cancer [LINK what is/types]. But it can develop at an early or late stage of the cancer [LINK Treatment: Stages], depending on where the cancer is.
Yellowing can be hard to see on brown and black skin. Other symptoms related to jaundice are:
- itching, caused by a build-up of bile salts in the skin
- very dark wee from bilirubin in the urine
- pale, putty-coloured poo (bowel movements) because bile salts are not passing through and colouring the poo brown
Early on, you may have few other symptoms from jaundice. But if not treated, it can cause flu-like symptoms, including fever, aching muscles and feeling weak and tired. You may also feel sick.
Less common symptoms
You may also:
- lose weight for no reason
- have tummy (abdominal) pain that spreads to your back
These affect around 1 in 3 people (33%) with bile duct cancer. They are more common if you have intrahepatic bile duct cancer.
Around 1 in 10 people (10%) have a particular trio of symptoms – a raised temperature, jaundice and a dull ache in the upper right tummy (abdomen). This is likely to mean that you have sudden inflammation in your bile ducts. Doctors call this cholangitis (say: kol-anj-eye-tis).
Content last reviewed: October 2022
Next review date: October 2025