Bile Duct Cancer (Cholangiocarcinoma): Latest Research

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 09/2023

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about the scientific research being done to learn more about bile duct cancer and how to treat it. Use the menu to see other pages.

Doctors are working to learn more about bile duct cancer, ways to prevent it, how to best treat it, and how to provide the best care to people diagnosed with this disease. The following areas of research may include new options for patients through clinical trials. Always talk with your doctor about the best diagnostic and treatment options for you.

New drugs are a major focus of bile duct cancer research. Specifically, research is aimed at finding out whether new drugs that work differently than standard chemotherapy might work better for advanced biliary tract cancer. Areas of research for bile duct cancer include:

  • Targeted therapies. As explained in Types of Treatment, targeted therapy is drug treatment that targets the cancer’s specific genes, proteins, or the tissue environment that contributes to cancer growth and survival. Scientists are researching the genetic causes of bile duct cancer to find possible targeted therapies. People with advanced bile duct cancer are encouraged to talk with their doctors about molecular testing of their tumor tissue. Learn more about the basics of targeted treatments.

  • Immunotherapy. As outlined in Types of Treatment, immunotherapy is designed to boost the body’s natural defenses to fight the cancer. Researchers continue to investigate how immunotherapy may be useful for bile duct cancer treatment.

  • Photodynamic therapy (PDT). During PDT, a doctor gives an inactive form of a drug and then directs a special light at the tumor in the bile duct, using an endoscope in a procedure similar to endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP). (See the Diagnosis section for more information about this procedure.) This causes a chemical change in the drug, activating it to eliminate the tumor cells where the light is directed. PDT is currently used to relieve pain and symptoms, not to eliminate bile duct cancer. Doctors are also looking at whether PDT can reduce the risk of a stent becoming blocked by stopping the tumor from growing into it.

  • Radiosensitizers. Researchers are looking at radiosensitizers to treat bile duct cancer. Radiosensitizers are drugs that make tumor cells more likely to be destroyed by radiation therapy.

  • Palliative and supportive care. Clinical trials are underway to find better ways of reducing symptoms and side effects of current bile duct cancer treatments to improve comfort and quality of life for patients.

Looking for More About the Latest Research?

If you would like more information about the latest areas of research in bile duct cancer, explore these related items that will take you outside of this guide:

The next section in this guide is Coping with Treatment. It offers some guidance on how to cope with the physical, emotional, social, and financial changes that cancer and its treatment can bring. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.