Although bile duct cancer is curable if doctors diagnose it early, the goal for most people with the disease is remission.

Healthcare professionals consider a cancer “cured” when no more cancerous cells remain in the body and they do not expect the disease to recur. Remission means that while signs of cancer have significantly decreased, there is still a risk of it returning.

Experts classify bile duct cancer into several stages that determine the extent of the disease in the body. Knowledge of the cancer stage of a specific individual can help doctors determine an accurate treatment plan.

Read on to learn how bile duct cancer is curable, remission rates, and treatment goals.

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Whether or not bile duct cancer is curable depends on how far the cancer has progressed and whether doctors can manage it with surgery. This is the main treatment that can help cure bile duct cancer.

Healthcare professionals generally categorize bile duct cancer into one of two types. The first is resectable, also known as localized, which is removable with surgery. The other is unresectable, which doctors call recurrent and metastatic, though surgery cannot completely remove this cancer.

Most often, stages 0, 1, 2, and some stage 3 cancers are resectable. However, other factors, such as the overall health of the person, determine whether they can undergo major surgery.

Surgery cannot completely cure most bile duct cancers in stages 3 and 4. In such cases, doctors recommend other treatment approaches to control cancer growth and relieve symptoms.

Many cases of bile duct cancer are unresectable due to diagnosis at later stages of cancer.

Remission means that a person’s cancer is improving, remaining stable, or not growing. The remission, in many cases, is permanent, but in some cases, it is only temporary.

The survival rates of bile duct cancer can help indicate the percentage of individuals with the same stage and type of cancer who are still alive after some time following diagnosis. However, they are unable to determine how long a person might live.

The 5-year relative survival rates for bile duct cancer depend on regional, localized, and distant stages where:

  • regional indicates that cancer has spread to nearby structures or lymph nodes outside the bile duct
  • localized indicates that the disease has not spread outside the bile ducts
  • distant indicates that cancer has spread to other parts of the body such as the lungs

The 5-year relative survival rates of intrahepatic bile duct cancer, which forms inside the bile ducts in the liver, are:

  • Localized: 24%
  • Regional: 9%
  • Distant: 2%
  • All stages combined: 9%

The 5-year relative survival rates of extrahepatic bile duct cancer, which forms outside the liver, are:

  • Localized: 17%
  • Regional: 16%
  • Distant: 2%
  • All stages combined: 10%

These percentages account for people with a bile duct cancer diagnosis between 2011 and 2017. However, the current statistics may vary due to the availability of newer and improved treatment options.

Several treatment options are available that can help improve the quality of life and extend the life of individuals with bile duct cancer. The treatment approach a doctor chooses depends on:

  • the type and size of bile duct cancer
  • whether cancer has spread
  • side effects of the treatment
  • the overall health of the individual
  • whether cancer is resectable or unresectable

Removal of resectable cancer can take place completely through surgery, though it is not possible to fully remove an unresectable cancer. Surgical approaches to treat bile duct cancer are:

  • Removal of the bile duct: This involves the removal of the bile duct if the tumor is small and on the bile duct only.
  • Partial hepatectomy: This involves the removal of the part of the liver where cancer appears.
  • Whipple procedure: This involves the removal of the gallbladder, the head of the pancreas, the bile duct, part of the small intestine, and part of the stomach.

Other treatment options include:

Learn more about treatment for bile duct cancer.

Palliative care, or supportive care, can help reduce or control cancer symptoms. It aims to make a person comfortable and reduce pain.

Some common procedures that are part of palliative care for bile duct cancer are:

  • biliary catheter or stent
  • biliary bypass
  • tumor destruction
  • photodynamic therapy
  • alcohol injections

Learn more about palliative care.

Bile duct cancer is a cancer of the bile ducts that carry the bile fluid important for food digestion. Although it may be curable if caught in its early stages, doctors cannot detect most bile duct cancers until they reach stages 3 and 4.

If a person’s cancer is not resectable, doctors can manage it with other treatment options such as radiation and chemotherapy. People may then reach remission or have no prominent cancer symptoms.