Chemotherapy for bile duct cancer

Chemotherapy is usually used to help control symptoms when surgery is not possible. Sometimes it is given after surgery to reduce risk of the cancer coming back.

About chemotherapy for bile duct cancer

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. For bile duct cancer it may be given to:

  • reduce the risk of cancer coming back after surgery
  • try to shrink or slow the growth of the cancer
  • help improve symptoms, such as pain.

Chemotherapy after surgery

Sometimes chemotherapy is given after surgery to remove the cancer. The aim is to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. This is called adjuvant treatment. The treatment usually involves 8 cycles of chemotherapy with capecitabine tablets. It takes about 6 months.

If your doctor offers you chemotherapy after surgery, they will talk to you about the possible benefits and disadvantages. This can help you decide whether to have this treatment.

Chemotherapy for advanced bile duct cancer

If you cannot have surgery to remove the cancer, your doctor may suggest you have chemotherapy. The aim of this treatment is to try to control the cancer and help improve symptoms.

Chemotherapy drugs used to treat bile duct cancer

The chemotherapy drugs most commonly used to treat bile duct cancer are:

Other drugs that may be used include:

Possible side effects of chemotherapy

Chemotherapy drugs may cause side effects. But they can also make you feel better. This is because they help improve the symptoms caused by the cancer. Most people have some side effects, but they can usually control these with medicines. The side effects usually stop when treatment has finished. You can talk to your doctor or nurse about what to expect from your treatment.

We have more information about the side effects of chemotherapy.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our bile duct cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    Valle JW, Borbath I, Khan SA, et al. Biliary cancer: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Ann Oncol, 2016; 27, suppl 5, v28-v37. Available from www.doi.org/10.1093/annonc/mdw324 (accessed October 2019).

    Rizvi S, Khan A, Hallemeier C, et al. Cholangiocarcinoma - evolving concepts and therapeutic strategies. Clinical Oncology, 2018; 15, 2, 95-111. Available from www.doi.org/10.1038/nrclinonc.2017.157 (accessed October 2019). 


  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Dr Paul Ross, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.