ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about body changes and other things that can signal a problem that may need medical care. Use the menu to see other pages.
People with bile duct cancer may experience the following symptoms or signs, usually because the tumor is blocking the bile duct. A symptom is something that only the person experiencing it can identify and describe, such as fatigue, nausea, or pain. A sign is something that other people can identify and measure, such as a fever, rash, or an elevated pulse. Together, signs and symptoms can help describe a medical problem. Sometimes, people with bile duct cancer do not have any of the signs and symptoms 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 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 also 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
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 ask how long and how often you have been experiencing the symptom(s), in addition to other questions. This is to help figure out the cause of the problem, called a diagnosis.
If bile duct cancer is diagnosed, relieving symptoms remains an important part of cancer care and treatment. This may be called "palliative care" or "supportive care." It is often started soon after diagnosis and continued throughout 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.