Bile Duct Cancer (Cholangiocarcinoma): Symptoms and Signs

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

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about the changes and medical problems that can be a sign of bile duct cancer. Use the menu to see other pages.

What are the symptoms and signs of bile duct cancer?

People with bile duct cancer may experience one or more of the following symptoms or signs, usually because the tumor is blocking the bile duct. Symptoms are changes that you can feel in your body. Signs are changes in something measured, like taking your blood pressure or doing a lab test. Together, symptoms and signs can help describe a medical problem. Sometimes, people with bile duct cancer do not have any of the symptoms and signs described below. Or, the cause of a symptom or sign may be a medical condition that is not cancer.


Jaundice is a common symptom of bile duct cancer. When the bile duct is blocked, the body's liver cannot excrete bile. This makes bile back up into the bloodstream and can cause jaundice. However, it's important to note that a blockage is not always a cancerous tumor. A gallstone or scar tissue can also block the bile duct.

Jaundice causes the skin and the whites of the eyes to turn yellow. It is caused by high levels of bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin is dark yellow, and bile contains bilirubin. Bilirubin can cause the skin and whites of the eyes to turn yellow if there are higher levels of it in the bloodstream. It can also make a person’s urine a dark color and make bowel movements pale.

Jaundice is a common symptom for many other medical conditions. Your doctor may need to do several diagnostic tests to find the exact cause of the jaundice. (See the Diagnosis section for a complete list.) Many diseases associated with jaundice are not serious or life-threatening, and bile duct cancer is a less common cause.

Other symptoms of bile duct cancer

  • Itching, caused by a buildup of bile salts and bilirubin in the body that collects in the skin

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Loss of appetite

  • Fever

  • Abdominal pain. Early bile duct cancer usually does not cause pain, but a person may experience pain if the cancer is large or has spread.

If you are concerned about any changes you experience, please talk with your doctor. Your doctor will try to understand what is causing your symptom(s). They may do an exam and order tests to understand the cause of the problem, which is called a diagnosis.

If bile duct cancer is diagnosed, relieving symptoms remains an important part of cancer care and treatment. Managing symptoms may also be called "palliative and supportive care," which is not the same as hospice care given at the end of life. You can receive palliative and supportive care at any time during cancer treatment. This type of care focuses on managing symptoms and supporting people who face serious illnesses, such as cancer. Learn more in this guide’s section on Coping with Treatment.

Be sure to talk with your health care team about the symptoms you experience, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms.

The next section in this guide is Diagnosis. It explains what tests may be needed to learn more about the cause of the symptoms. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.