What is Bile Duct Surgery?
Bile duct surgery is a term used to describe a range of medical procedures on or around the bile duct. Sometimes bile duct surgery is used as a stand-alone treatment, and sometimes it is used alongside other treatments such as chemotherapy in the case of cancer.
There are two types of bile duct surgery:
- Surgery for benign conditions (such as stones, strictures or cysts)
- Surgery for malignant conditions such as bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma) and pancreatic cancer.
Bile duct surgery is always performed by a surgeon. The aim of bile duct surgery is to treat, repair or remove the bile duct. Your surgeon will talk to you about the type of bile duct surgery that has been recommended for you.
Why do I need bile duct surgery?
Bile duct surgery may have been recommended to you for a number of reasons. People with benign conditions such as stones, structures or cysts, may need bile duct surgery to remove blockages and prevent or treat infections. Surgery is an effective method of treating these painful conditions.
If you have been diagnosed with a malignant condition such as bile duct cancer or pancreatic cancer, its likely that you will require surgery. Surgery is the main treatment for bile duct and pancreatic cancer. The type of surgery that is right for you will depend on the size of the cancer and whether it has spread into nearby tissue.
What happens during bile duct surgery?
Many benign conditions such as stones, strictures or cysts can be treated with laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery. This involves your surgeon making a few small incisions into your abdomen and using a flexible tube with a light, camera and surgical tools. This surgery is minimally invasive and has a good recovery time.
Sometimes your surgeon may decide to treat your benign condition with open surgery. This involves your surgeon making a single, larger incision into your abdomen and accessing your bile duct and pancreas through that incision.
Surgery is the best option for people who have been diagnosed with bile duct or pancreatic cancer. Surgery to remove bile duct or pancreatic cancers can be complicated, and it isn’t suitable for everyone. They type of operation that you have will depend on the size of the cancer and whether it has spread to nearby tissue.
Common bile duct surgery procedures include:
- removal of the bile ducts: usually used for early stage cancers
- partial liver resection: If the cancer has spread into the liver, the bile ducts and parts of the liver can be removed.
- Whipple procedure: A major operation which is performed if the cancer has spread into nearby tissue and organs. This surgery requires you to stay in hospital for at least two weeks. It involves the removal of the bile ducts, part of the stomach and small bowel, the pancreas, gallbladder and nearby lymph nodes
- surgery to remove a blockage: This doesn’t treat the cancer; however, it helps to relieve symptoms caused by the blockage.
Will I stay in hospital?
Some bile duct surgery procedures are performed laparoscopically, and may not require you to stay overnight. Almost all open surgery procedures, especially those used to treat malignant conditions, will require a hospital stay.
The amount of time you spend in hospital will depend upon your condition, how quickly you recover from the treatment and whether or not you have someone at home to help you. Major surgical interventions such as a Whipple procedure require you to stay in hospital for at least two weeks.
What are the possible risks and side-effects?
All surgery involves a degree of risk. Your surgeon will give you clear information about the possible risks and side-effects related to your cancer surgery. Possible side-effects from bile duct surgery can be pain and discomfort, as well as reactions to the general anaesthetic such as; nausea, vomiting, and dizziness.
Complications such as infection, bleeding and blood clots can also occur after surgery. Most complication are minor and can be easily treated. You should talk to your surgeon about the risks of your surgery and any concerns that you may have.
How long will it take to recover?
Recovery from bile duct surgery can take less than a week or more than three months. Your recovery time will depend on what type of surgery you have, as well as your overall health before surgery. Your surgeon will talk to you about what to expect with your recovery process. It’s important to follow your surgeon’s recommendations and give yourself time to recover properly.