Bile Duct Cancer (Cholangiocarcinoma): Risk Factors and Prevention

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

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about the factors that increase the chance of developing bile duct cancer. Use the menu to see other pages.

What are the risk factors for bile duct cancer?

A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing cancer. Although risk factors often influence the development of cancer, most do not directly cause cancer. Some people with several risk factors never develop cancer, while others with no known risk factors do. Knowing your risk factors and talking about them with your doctor may help you make more informed lifestyle and health care choices.

The following factors may raise a person’s risk of developing bile duct cancer. However, it is important to note that in the United States, most people with this type of cancer do not have any obvious risk factors.

Previous disease or irritation of the bile duct are a possible risk factor for this cancer. For instance, ulcerative colitis or stones similar to gallstones can cause inflammation of the bile duct. Diseases and conditions that increase the risk of bile duct cancer include:

  • Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC). This is a rare inflammatory condition of the bile ducts. No one knows what causes it. See the Statistics section for more information.

  • Choledochal cyst. This is an abnormality that a person has from birth. It causes swelling on the part of the bile duct outside the liver.

  • Caroli syndrome. This is an abnormality of the small bile ducts that a person has in the liver from birth. This syndrome increases the risk of infection and stones, like gallstones, forming in the liver.

  • Cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is liver disease that can cause scarring or long-lasting irritation. Cirrhosis can have many causes, but hepatitis viruses and alcohol consumption are the most common.

  • Liver flukes. Liver flukes are parasites that can infect the bile duct. See the Statistics section for more information.

  • Age. Older adults are more likely to develop bile duct cancer.

  • Certain chemicals. Dioxins, nitrosamines, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) may cause bile duct cancer. In particular, people who work in rubber plants and automotive industries may be exposed more often to these chemicals.

Are there ways to prevent bile duct cancer?

Different factors cause different types of cancer. Researchers continue to look into what factors cause bile duct cancer, including ways to prevent it. Although there is no proven way to completely prevent bile duct cancer, you may be able to lower your risk.

  • Avoid coming in contact with hazardous chemicals. Thorium dioxide, a chemical once used in x-ray examinations, is associated with a high risk of developing bile duct cancer. Its use has been banned. However, other hazardous chemicals are still available or found in the environment that can increase the risk of developing bile duct cancer.

  • Avoid drinking too much alcohol, which can lead to cirrhosis.

  • If you travel to parts of the world where liver flukes are common, drink only purified water and eat only foods that have been thoroughly cooked.

Talk with your health care team for more information about your personal risk of cancer.

Learn more about cancer prevention and healthy living.

The next section in this guide is Symptoms and Signs. It explains what changes or medical problems bile duct cancer can cause. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.