Bile Duct Cancer: Stages

March 21, 2017

Bile Duct Cancer: Stages

What does stage of cancer mean?

The stage of a cancer is how much and how far the cancer has spread in your body. Your healthcare provider uses exams and tests to find out the size of the cancer and where it is. He or she can also see if the cancer has grown into nearby areas, and if it has spread to other parts of your body. The stage of a cancer is one of the most important things to know when deciding how to treat the cancer. 

Your doctor considers the stage and your health to recommend a treatment plan. Staging information helps doctors compare your individual situation with other people who have had bile duct cancer. Based on clinical studies done on people in similar stages of the disease, a doctor can make some predictions about how the cancer may act and how different treatments may work.

There are 2 types of stages of cancer: 

  • Clinical stage. This is determined from biopsies and imaging tests. This type of staging helps your doctor decide on the best treatment options for you.

  • Pathological stage. This is determined based on looking at your bile duct after it’s removed with surgery. In some cases, the pathological stage is higher. This is because the tumor may have spread more than believed.

The system of staging  

Doctors use different rating systems to stage cancer. There are system used most often to stage bile duct cancer is the TNM system. The TNM system is: 

  • T stands for tumor. This category notes details about the tumor itself. It notes if the tumor has grown outside of the bile duct into nearby areas such as the pancreas or a vein in the liver.

  • N stands for nodes. Lymph nodes are small organs around the body. They help the body fight infections. This category notes if cancer cells have spread to the nearby lymph nodes.

  • M stands for metastasis. This category notes if the cancer has spread to distant lymph nodes, organs, or bones.

What are the stages of bile duct cancer?

Once your T, N, and M categories have been determined, your doctor puts them together in a process called stage grouping. This is used to determine your overall cancer stage. Stage grouping is done with Roman numerals going from 0 (the earliest stage) to IV (the most advanced stage). Staging for bile duct cancer is complex, and it differs based on the location of the tumor. Your doctor should explain the stage of your cancer to you in a way you understand. Be sure to ask questions if there is anything you are not clear about. 

Talking with your healthcare provider

Once your cancer is staged, your healthcare provider will talk with you about what the stage means for your treatment. Make sure to ask any questions or talk about your concerns.  


March 21, 2017


TNM Staging System for Perihilar Cholangiocarcinoma, Up To Date

Reviewed By:  

Alteri, Rick, MD,Welch, Annette, MNS, OCN