Radiation Therapy for Bile Duct Cancer (Cholangiocarcinoma)

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Radiation therapy uses precisely focused high-energy beams to kill cancer cells. To treat bile duct cancer, our doctors may give radiation alone or in combination with chemotherapy or other treatments. The kind of radiation we recommend depends on the type of bile duct cancer, the location of the tumor, and whether it has spread.

External-beam radiation therapy is the most common type of radiation therapy used to treat bile duct cancer. The radiation may be given alone or in combination with a radiosensitizer. This is a drug that makes the body more sensitive to radiation.

You may have heard of CyberKnife. This is a brand name for a type of radiation therapy called stereotactic body radiation therapy. MSK uses a similar technology that employs a system called TrueBeam, which incorporates CT imaging into the same device that delivers the radiation. This method destroys tumors with very intense doses of radiation in fewer sessions than standard radiation therapy.

Minimizing Radiation Side Effects

Our doctors use highly sophisticated computer software and 3-D computer images from CT scans to develop individualized plans for each person we care for. This makes it possible to deliver high doses of radiation to a bile duct tumor while sparing surrounding organs and reducing the risk to healthy tissue.

Our doctors use radiation therapy to treat bile duct cancer in several ways:

Before or After Surgery

Radiation is occasionally given before surgery to shrink a tumor so it is possible to remove it.

After a bile duct tumor has been removed, radiation may be given to the area where the tumor once was or in the nearby lymph nodes. This is done to destroy any cancer cells that may remain following surgery.

As the Main Cancer Treatment

Radiation therapy may be used as the main treatment in people with bile duct cancer that has spread throughout the body and cannot be removed by surgery. The radiation will not cure the cancer, but it may help people with advanced bile duct cancer live longer.

As Palliative Therapy

Radiation is sometimes given to people with advanced bile duct cancer to shrink a tumor that is causing discomfort by blocking blood vessels or bile ducts or pressing on nerves.