Different types of treatments have different goals. Below are the usual treatments for bile duct cancer with their goals. You may have one or more of these types of treatment:
Surgery. The goal of surgery is to remove the bile duct tumor. If the cancer has spread, nearby tissue including lymph nodes may also be removed. Lymph nodes are infection-fighting glands located throughout your body.
Radiation therapy. The goal of radiation is to kill cancer cells with X-rays. This treatment may be used to try to shrink a tumor before surgery or to treat any remaining cancer cells after surgery. Radiation therapy is often combined with chemotherapy to try to increase effectiveness. If surgery is not possible, combined radiation and chemotherapy may be used to treat the symptoms of bile duct cancer, such as pain.
Chemotherapy. This is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. The goal of this treatment is to control the cancer for as long as possible in people who are not candidates for surgery to remove the tumor. Some doctors may also use chemotherapy to try to shrink a tumor so that surgery may be possible. It may also be used after surgery to try to lower the risk the cancer will come back.
Stent placement using endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) and percutaneous methods. If your cancer is blocking the bile duct, your doctor may place a thin tube, called a stent, in the bile duct to keep it open and help drain bile that builds up in the area. Another option is to place a stent into the duct that drains into a bag outside the body to allow bile out. This is done to help prevent symptoms, such as pain or yellow eyes and skin, called jaundice. A stent may be placed temporarily until surgery is performed to remove the tumor, but it is more often used in people with advanced cancers that can't be removed with surgery.
Doctors are always looking for new ways to treat bile duct cancer. These new methods are tested in clinical trials. Before beginning treatment, ask your doctor if there are any clinical trials to consider. Here are four treatments currently being studied:
Immunotherapy or biologic therapy. This is a treatment that makes your immune system act to defend your body against the cancer.
Targeted therapy. These are drugs or monoclonal antibodies that block the pathways necessary for cancer cells to grow. When these pathways are blocked, cancer cells either stop growing or die.
Photodynamic therapy. This treatment uses special light rays to activate a drug that kills cancer cells. It does not destroy the cancer completely. Doctors think it may be able to ease some of the symptoms and slow down the disease.
Radiation sensitizers. This treatment uses drugs that make tumor cells more sensitive to radiation therapy. Combining radiation therapy with these drugs may kill more tumor cells.