Bile Duct Cancer: Risk Factors

What is a risk factor?

A risk factor is anything that may increase your chance of having a disease. Risk factors for a certain type of cancer might include smoking, diet, family history, or many other things. The exact cause of someone’s cancer may not be known. But risk factors can make it more likely for a person to have cancer.

Things you should know about risk factors for cancer: 

  • Risk factors can increase a person's risk, but they do not necessarily cause the disease.

  • Some people with 1 or more risk factors never develop cancer. Other people can develop cancer and have no risk factors.

  • Some risk factors are very well known. But there is ongoing research about risk factors for many types of cancer.

Some risk factors, such as family history, may not be in your control. But others may be things you can change. Knowing the risk factors can help you make choices that might lower your risk. For example, if an unhealthy diet is a risk factor, you may choose to eat healthy foods. If excess weight is a risk factor, your healthcare provider may check your weight or help you lose weight.

Who is at risk for bile duct cancer?

Risk factors for bile duct cancer include: 

  • Age.  Older adults in their 60s or 70s have a higher risk for bile duct cancer.

  • Obesity. Being obese increases your risk for bile duct cancer. 

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

  • Certain bile duct or liver diseases. People who have long-lasting (chronic) inflammation of the bile ducts have an increased risk for 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 having 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.

  • Having had X-rays with contrast injection before or during the 1940s. A substance called Thorotrast was used as a contrast agent in X-rays in the 1930s and 1940s. The substance can cause bile duct cancer. If you had X-rays with Thorotrast during that time, you could be at an increased risk for bile duct cancer.

What are your risk factors? 

Talk with your healthcare provider about your risk factors for bile duct cancer and what you can do about them. Some ways you may reduce your risk include:

  • Eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise.

  • Stay at a healthy weight.

  • Reduce or cut out alcohol, as excess alcohol can lead to cirrhosis.

  • Get a hepatitis B vaccine, which can lead to cirrhosis.

  • Take steps to prevent hepatitis C infection, which can lead to cirrhosis.

  • Avoid contact with the chemicals listed above.

© 2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. 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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