Bile duct cancer


Bile duct cancer

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Surgery involves removing tissues or organs from the body. The type of surgery you have depends on your cancer. You may also hear surgery called an operation or a procedure.

Every operation is different. Ask your surgeon about what to expect.

Most bile duct surgery is complex and should be done at a specialist centre. 
See our Canrefer website for a list of bile duct cancer specialist centres in NSW.

What you need to know

Surgery for bile duct cancer

Surgery is one of the main treatments for bile duct cancer. The type of surgery that is performed will depend on:

  • the location of the bile duct cancer
  • the size of the cancer
  • whether it has spread
  • your fitness and general health.

When bile duct cancer is diagnosed early, it is possible to have surgery to remove the cancer. This may involve:

  • removal of the bile duct and part of the liver (partial hepatectomy)
  • Whipple procedure
  • a combination of both of these procedures.

If the cancer is causing a blockage in the bile ducts or intestines, then other procedures can  be used to relieve symptoms. This is known as palliative treatment, and can include:

  • biliary stent placement
  • percutaneous biliary drainage
  • biliary bypass surgery.

These procedures can be used before further treatment intended to cure the cancer, or to manage symptoms in people with advanced cancer. They may be performed using surgery, interventional radiology, or ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography).

The surgical team to treat bile duct cancer

Health professionals who work as part of the surgical team include:

  • surgeon
  • anaesthetist
  • radiologist
  • nurses
  • allied health professional.

What to ask or talk about

Possible side effects of bile duct cancer surgery

Your surgeon will discuss any risks of the surgery with you before your operation. Most hospitals will also give you written information about the surgery and who to contact if you have any concerns.

Possible side effects and complications from any surgery include:

  • pain
  • infection
  • bleeding
  • tiredness (fatigue)
  • loss of appetite
  • blood clots.

Possible side effects and complications of bile duct surgery include:

  • bile leak
  • diarrhoea
  • cholangitis – infection caused when bile doesn’t drain properly
  • digestion problems
  • liver failure.
Every operation is different. Ask your surgeon about what to expect and see our checklist of questions to ask.

checklist Checklists

Use our checklists to find helpful tips or questions to ask.

Next steps

Preparing for surgery

Before surgery, you will need to sign a consent form. It is important you understand what you are consenting to and the possible risks of the surgery.

Some things you should know are:

  • whether you need to have tests and a preoperative assessment
  • whether you need to change or stop any medications, e.g. blood thinners like aspirin
  • when you have to stop eating and drinking
  • when you have to be there
  • whether you need time off work
  • whether you need someone to care for you at home after surgery (if you are having day surgery you will need someone to drive you home).
If you smoke, you should stop before any operation as your risk of complications from surgery is higher.

Where to get help

There are people you can talk to for more information or support.

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