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Am I At Risk for Bile Duct Cancer?

There is really no way to know for sure if you are going to get bile duct cancer, but certain factors can make you more likely to get it than another person. These are called risk factors. However, just because you have one or more risk factors does not necessarily mean you will get bile duct cancer. In fact, you can have many risk factors and still not get bile duct cancer, or you can have few or no known risk factors and still get it.

Bile duct cancer is relatively rare, but some factors do increase your risk of developing it. Some are out of your control, such as your age. But other risk factors are within your control. If you agree with any of these statements, you could be at an increased risk for developing bile duct cancer.

I am older than age 65

Most of the people diagnosed with bile duct cancer are over age 65.

I am obese

Being obese increases your risk of bile duct cancer as well as many other cancers. 

I am from East Asia or the Middle East, or spend a lot of time there

Bile duct cancer is much more common in East Asia and the Middle East, mostly because of a parasitic infection of the bile ducts with tiny worms called liver flukes, which is common there. This parasite increases the risk for bile duct cancer.

I have had other bile duct or liver diseases

People who have long-lasting (chronic) inflammation of the bile ducts have an increased risk of developing bile duct cancer. This condition may be from a disease called sclerosing cholangitis. Another condition that can raise your risk for bile duct cancer is congenital cysts in bile ducts either inside or outside your liver. Ulcerative colitis, stones in the bile ducts, cirrhosis of the liver, or an abnormal junction between the distal common bile duct and the main pancreatic duct may also increase your risk.

I had X-rays with contrast injection in the 1940s or earlier

A substance that was used as a contrast agent in X-rays many years ago sometimes leads to bile duct cancer. This substance, called Thorotrast, was used in X-rays in the 1930s and 1940s until its cancer risks became known. If you had X-rays with Thorotrast during that time, you could be at an increased risk for bile duct cancer.

I work (or worked) with certain chemicals

Certain chemicals may increase the risk for bile duct cancer. These chemicals include dioxin, nitrosamines, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Nitrosamines are sometimes used in making pesticides, rubber, and metal. PCBs are no longer made in the United States. Some products made before 1977 may still contain PCBs. These products include old fluorescent lights and electrical devices, and old microscope and hydraulic oils.

What can I do if I'm at risk for bile duct cancer?

Doctors have little advice on how to prevent bile duct cancer. That's because most risk factors for bile duct cancer are outside your control. Bile duct cancer often develops in people with no known risk factors. Do what you can to avoid risk factors within your control, such as:

  • Eat a healthy diet

  • Get regular exercise

  • Avoid excess alcohol use

  • Avoid sexually transmitted diseases and hepatitis B and C infections (which could lead to cirrhosis)

  • Avoid certain chemicals at work

  • Get immunized against hepatitis B

  • Quit, or don't start, smoking

  • Keep your weight at a normal level, since obesity can increase your risk for bile duct and other cancers 

If you have a bile duct disease, such as sclerosing cholangitis, you should routinely follow up with your doctor.


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