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Bile Duct Cancer: Chemotherapy

Photo of intravenous drug bag

What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy uses anticancer medicines to kill cancer cells. The medicines are made to attack and kill cancer cells that divide rapidly. While cancer cells divide rapidly, so do some normal cells. Because of this, chemotherapy can also affect those rapidly dividing normal cells in the body, which can lead to side effects.

When might chemotherapy be used to treat bile duct cancer?

Chemotherapy may be used for these reasons: 

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

  • Before surgery to make tumors smaller and easier to remove

  • To help shrink tumors to relieve symptoms, if you can't have surgery or for advanced cancer that has spread

 How is chemotherapy given for bile duct cancer?

 The anticancer medicines are injected into a vein or given by mouth. They then enter the bloodstream and reach all areas of the body. This is called systemic treatment.

 What are the medicines used to treat bile duct cancer?

 These are medicines that are used most often for bile duct cancer. They are given either alone or in combination:

  • Fluorouracil, 5-FU

  • Capecitabine

  • Gemcitabine

  • Cisplatin

  • Oxaliplatin

 Researchers are looking at new types of chemotherapy for the treatment of bile duct cancer. Ask your doctor if you should consider a clinical trial.

What are the side effects of chemorapy?

Side effects are common with chemotherapy. But it's important to know that they can often be prevented or controlled. The side effects usually go away when the treatment ends. Side effects depend on the type and amount of medicines you’re taking. They vary from person to person.

Some common side effects include: 

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Skin irritation or rash

  • Loss of appetite

  • Fatigue

  • Hair loss

  • Mouth sores

  • Increased chance of infection

  • Increased chance of bleeding or bruising

Working with your healthcare provider

It's important to know which medicines you're taking. Write your medicines down, ask your healthcare team how they work, and what side effects they might have. Keep a written diary of your treatment schedule and any signs or symptoms you have.

Talk with your healthcare providers about what signs to look for, and when to call them. Chemotherapy can make you more likely to get infections.

It may be helpful to keep a diary of your side effects. Write down physical, thinking, and emotional changes. A written list will make it easier for you to remember your questions when you go to your appointments. It will also make it easier for you to work with your medical team to make a plan to manage your side effects.

Online Medical Reviewer: Alteri, Rick, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Welch, Annette, MNS, OCN
Date Last Reviewed: 7/20/2015
© 2013 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.
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