Common symptoms are changes in stool appearance and texture. Normally, stool is brown, but people with bile duct cancer may have pale or clay-colored stools that are oily and float in water.

Also known as cholangiocarcinoma, bile duct cancer is a type of rare cancer that starts growing in the bile ducts. Bile is needed to break down fats during digestion.

When a person eats food that contains fat, the gallbladder releases bile into the small intestine to help digest it. If cancer develops in the bile ducts, they cannot function properly and may not produce enough bile. With a lack of bile and an inability to digest fats, stool will look different.

Read on to learn more about stool changes with bile duct cancer.

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Normally, stool color is some shade of brown. Occasionally, slight variations in color may occur due to diet. However, these changes are generally temporary. For example, if a person eats beets, their stool may have a reddish tinge the next day.

However, with bile duct cancer, the whole digestion process is disrupted. This means that instead of the typical brown, stool can be much lighter in color. It may appear clay-colored and pale.

Since fats can no longer be digested, stool may also look oily and float. They might also be hard to flush.

Bile is the liquid that helps the body break down fats in the diet. Normally, it passes from the liver to the gallbladder and into the small intestine. However, bile duct cancer can block the normal passage of bile in the digestive system. This means the body can no longer digest fats normally.

Although bile starts as a yellow-green liquid, as it goes through the digestive process, it turns brown. This gives stool its color.

Without bile, stool lacks color and is pale or clay-colored.

Anything that blocks bile from entering the digestive system can cause pale stools. It is not just cancer that can cause pale stools.

Along with changes in stool color, there are other signs and symptoms of bile duct cancer.

However, it is important to note that bile duct cancer is rare, and many of these symptoms have other causes. This means that if a person has one or more of these symptoms, it does not necessarily mean that they have bile duct cancer.

Other symptoms of bile duct cancer may include:

  • jaundice, which is the yellowing of the eyes and skin
  • dark urine
  • feeling itchy
  • pain in the abdominal area, especially on the right side
  • unexplained weight loss
  • low appetite
  • fever

Other things may cause the signs and symptoms of bile duct cancer. However, it is a good idea to speak with a doctor if a person is experiencing any of them.

Pale-colored stools often indicate a problem with the liver or gallbladder, so if a person has frequent pale stools, they should contact a doctor.

Jaundice is another symptom that should be discussed with a doctor.

Bile duct cancer is a rare cancer that starts in the cells of the bile ducts. It can block bile — which gives stool its brown color — so people with this cancer may experience changes in their stool’s color and texture.

If a person has frequent pale, clay-colored stools, they should contact a doctor.