Bile Duct Cancer (Cholangiocarcinoma): Follow-Up Care

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 01/2019

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about your medical care after receiving cancer treatment and why this follow-up care is important. Use the menu to see other pages.

Care for people diagnosed with cancer does not end after active treatment. Your health care team will continue to check that the cancer has not come back, manage any side effects, and monitor your overall health. This is called follow-up care.

Your follow-up care may include regular physical examinations, medical tests, or both. Doctors want to keep track of your recovery in the months and years ahead. Learn more about the importance of follow-up care.

Watching for recurrence

One goal of follow-up care is to check for a recurrence, which means that the cancer has come back. Cancer recurs because small areas of cancer cells may remain undetected in the body. Over time, these cells may increase in number until they show up on test results or cause signs or symptoms. During follow-up care, a doctor familiar with your medical history can give you personalized information about your risk of recurrence or a secondary tumor. Your doctor will ask specific questions about your health. Some people may have blood tests or imaging tests done as part of regular follow-up care, but testing recommendations depend on several factors, including the type and stage of cancer originally diagnosed and the types of treatment given.

Researchers are studying ways to prevent recurrences, but there is no standard preventive treatment at this time.

The anticipation before having a follow-up test or waiting for test results can add stress to you or a family member. This is sometimes called “scan-xiety.” Learn more about how to cope with this type of stress.

Watching for stent or bypass problems

For patients who received a stent or surgical bypass to relieve jaundice, follow-up care involves checking whether it still works to remove the blockage. Patients should contact a doctor immediately if:

  • Jaundice becomes worse, becoming a deeper yellow

  • Jaundice recurs after the stent originally cleared the blockage

  • A fever develops, along with sweating, shaking, or abdominal pain

In these cases, the stent may need to be changed or repositioned.

Managing long-term and late side effects

Most people expect to experience side effects when receiving treatment. However, it is often surprising to survivors that some side effects may linger beyond the treatment period. These are called long-term side effects. Other side effects called late effects may develop months or even years afterwards. Long-term and late effects can include both physical and emotional changes.

A long-term side effect of treatment for bile duct cancer is the development of strictures after surgery to the biliary system. Strictures are noncancerous scars that form slowly. They may narrow the bile ducts, causing symptoms similar to those of the original bile duct cancer.

There is a chance of developing another type of cancer, called a secondary cancer.

Talk with your doctor about your risk of developing such side effects based on the type of cancer, your individual treatment plan, and your overall health. If you had a treatment known to cause specific late effects, you may have certain physical examinations, scans, or blood tests to help find and manage them.

Keeping personal health records

You and your doctor should work together to develop a personalized follow-up care plan. Be sure to discuss any concerns you have about your future physical or emotional health. ASCO offers forms to help keep track of the cancer treatment you received and develop a survivorship care plan when treatment is completed.

This is also a good time to talk with your doctor about who will lead your follow-up care. Some survivors continue to see their oncologist, while others transition back to the care of their family doctor or another health care professional. This decision depends on several factors, including the type and stage of cancer, side effects, health insurance rules, and your personal preferences.

If a doctor who was not directly involved in your cancer care will lead your follow-up care, be sure to share your cancer treatment summary and survivorship care plan forms with him or her and with all future health care providers. Details about your cancer treatment are very valuable to the health care professionals who will care for you throughout your lifetime.

The next section in this guide is Survivorship. It describes how to cope with challenges in everyday life after a cancer diagnosis. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.