Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Bile duct cancer risk factors

The bile ducts play a significant role in the proper functioning of the digestive system. Any problem within the bile duct system such as inflammation, irritation or an obstruction may cause digestive problems or jaundice, or develop into a chronic (long-lasting) disease. Some of these conditions are considered risk factors for bile duct cancer.

cancer risks

Bile duct cancer risk factors


  • Age: Bile duct cancer is not very common in young or middle-aged adults. Over 60 percent of bile duct cancer patients are 65 years or older.


  • Obesity: Being obese could increase your risk of developing some cancers, including bile duct cancer.


  • Family history: Although a family history of bile duct cancer may increase a person’s bile duct cancer risks, the risk is low because this is a rare disease. Most cases of bile duct cancer do not appear to a have a familial link.


  • Excessive alcohol use and/or cirrhosis of the liver: Alcohol abuse is a common cause of cirrhosis of the liver, which increases a person’s liver cancer risks.
  • Smoking: Tobacco use may increase the risk of developing bile duct cancer.
  • Exposure to hazardous chemicals: Exposure to certain chemicals have been linked to an increase risk of developing bile duct cancer. These include: dioxins, nitrosamines, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), asbestos, radon and thorotrast (thorium dioxide, a radioactive substance previously used as a contrast agent for certain X-rays).


  • Chronic irritation or inflammation of the bile duct: Some conditions that cause chronic inflammation and increase the risk of bile duct cancer are bile duct stones, ulcerative colitis (inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract) and primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the bile duct and scarring.
  • Liver or bile duct diseases: Some diseases of the liver or bile duct, such as polycystic liver disease, pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), irritable bowel syndrome, choledochal cysts (bile-filled sacs outside the liver with pre-cancerous cells) and Caroli’s syndrome (an inherited condition present at birth that causes dilation or widening of the intrahepatic bile ducts), may increase a person’s bile duct cancer risks.
  • Parasitic infections: A water-borne parasite called liver fluke (Clonorchis sinensis and Opisthorchis viverrini) that is commonly found in Asia and the Middle Eastern countries can infect the bile duct and cause cancer.

Understanding risk factors

Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer. Not having risk factors doesn’t mean that you will not get cancer. If you think you may be at risk, you should discuss it with your doctor.

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