Is Cholangiocarcinoma Cancer Curable?

Daniel Catenacci MD

October 4, 2022

Cholangiocarcinoma Cancer

If you’re considering undergoing surgery or chemotherapy for cholangiocarcinoma, you’re probably wondering, “Is cholangiocarcinoma cancer curable?” While this is undoubtedly the goal of treatment, most cases have spread to other parts of the body by the time they are diagnosed. There are, however, options if your cancer is in the bile duct. Surgery can remove a section of the bile duct or a portion of your liver.

Treatment options

Cholangiocarcinoma treatment options vary widely based on the patient’s situation. Treatment options may include chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation, or surgery. The appropriate treatment depends on the cancer stage at diagnosis, the patient’s overall health, and the type of bile duct cancer involved. Understanding the various treatment options is essential because each tumour’s genetic makeup may affect how the treatment works.

While multiple treatment options are available, each has pros and cons. For example, Cholangiocarcinoma treatment options may depend on the resectability of cancer and the extent of spread. A doctor may perform surgery for small tumours inside the bile duct. Additionally, lymph nodes may be removed to check for cancer.

Stages Cholangiocarcinoma Cancer

Cholangiocarcinoma is a devastating malignancy that can be difficult to diagnose and often presents at an advanced stage. While existing staging systems use histopathologic criteria to classify cancer, they do not offer much guidance on treatment. These new proposed staging systems draw upon established data and aim to improve existing standards.

Cholangiocarcinoma can progress to various stages depending on its recurrence and extent. In the early stages, the tumour may not be visible and must be confirmed through a needle biopsy under imaging guidance. In advanced settings, the disease may become metastatic or unresectable.

Adjuvant therapy

In addition to surgery, chemotherapy is an integral part of cholangiocarcinoma treatment, which can prolong a patient’s life and improve the chances of a cure. Patients should be offered enrollment in prospective clinical trials, especially those with high-risk tumours. Adjuvant therapy for cholangiocarcinoma cancer should also include targeted approaches, which can help alter the disease trajectory.

Several chemotherapy agents have been studied in multicenter clinical trials as adjuvant therapy for cholangiocarcinomas. Some of these agents have shown early clinical efficacy. However, the effectiveness of these treatments is not yet fully known.


Cholangiocarcinoma is rare cancer that arises from the epithelial cells of the bile ducts. If detected early, surgery may be an option for patients. The goal of surgery is to remove cancer and restore the normal function of the liver. Depending on the tumour’s location, the procedure may include partial or complete hepatectomy. Surgery can also address complications from the disease, such as bile duct blockage.

Surgery for cholangiocarcinoma varies greatly depending on the stage of the disease, the extent of the disease, and the patient’s health and preferences. At the Mayo Clinic, doctors consider all the options available to find the best treatment for each patient. For example, patients may choose between neoadjuvant chemotherapy and surgical resection.

Radiation therapy-Cholangiocarcinoma Cancer

Radiation therapy for cholangiocarcinoma cancer is an effective option to reduce tumour size. This type of therapy involves the delivery of ionizing radiation to the affected area to kill cancer cells. The exact treatment regimen depends on the patient’s condition and preferences. A Mayo Clinic oncologist will carefully consider your options and work with you to choose the best course of treatment. In addition to radiation therapy, Mayo Clinic specialists also provide chemotherapy.

Radiation therapy can have side effects, including dehydration, nausea and vomiting. It also may cause skin irritation and distal esophagitis. In addition, some people may develop pain in the upper right abdomen. Patients should notify their doctor if they experience these side effects early.

Deceased donor liver transplantation

Liver transplantation is a procedure that can help a patient survive a liver-wasting disease. It is performed using a deceased donor. Patients with cholangiocarcinoma must be considered “suitable” for the procedure and undergo a series of diagnostic tests and procedures before receiving a liver transplant. In addition, patients undergoing a liver transplant must have a low risk of relapse and be in stable condition.

During surgery, a patient will be placed in an intensive care unit. Although this procedure is generally considered high-risk, it is considered medically necessary in some cases. After the surgery, the patient will need several blood products. The new liver cannot produce clotting factors to prevent excessive bleeding. If excessive bleeding occurs, the patient may require additional surgery.