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What to Know About Chemotherapy for Bile Duct Cancer

Photo of intravenous drug bag

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. With bile duct cancer, chemotherapy may be used for these reasons:

  • After surgery (often along with radiation therapy) to try to lower the risk that the cancer will come back

  • To help shrink tumors to relieve symptoms. This may be done for advanced bile duct cancer, where cancer has spread.

  • To help control the cancer when you can’t have surgery

  • Before surgery to make tumors smaller and easier to remove. This is done less often and it has better results when combined with radiation.

When anticancer drugs are injected into a vein or given by mouth, they enter the bloodstream and reach all areas of the body. This is called systemic treatment. These are drugs that have been used for bile duct cancer. They are given either as single agents or in combination:

  • Adrucil (fluorouracil, 5-FU)

  • Xeloda (capecitabine)

  • Gemzar (gemcitabine)

  • Platinol (cisplatin)

  • Adriamycin (doxorubicin)

  • Eloxatin (oxaliplatin)

  • Mitomycin C

Researchers are continuing to look at new and more effective types of chemotherapy for the treatment of bile duct cancer. Ask your doctor if you should consider enrolling in a clinical trial.

Questions to ask your doctor about chemotherapy

You may be often overwhelmed with the information you receive from your doctor. It is important that you take the time to gather as much information as possible. To help deal with the medical information and remember all of your questions, it is helpful to bring a family member or close friend with you to doctor's appointments. Here are some questions you may want to ask your doctor and nurse about chemotherapy:

  • What is the goal of this treatment?

  • How will I tell if it is working?

  • What will happen if I don't have this treatment?

  • How will I get the chemotherapy?

  • How many treatments will I get?

  • Over what period of time will the treatment be?

  • When will the treatment begin?

  • When will it end?

  • How will I feel during chemotherapy?

  • What can I do to take care of myself during chemotherapy?

  • What kind of side effects should I tell you about?

What to expect after chemotherapy

Because chemotherapy drugs also damage some normal cells, you may have side effects from chemotherapy. These depend on the type and amount of the drug you take, as well as the length of treatment. These are possible temporary side effects after chemotherapy:

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Loss of appetite

  • Fatigue

  • Hair loss

  • Mouth sores

  • Increased chance of infection

  • Increased chance of bleeding or bruising

Talk with your health care team about ways to manage any side effects you experience. 


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