Cholangiocarcinoma (CCA) is a heterogeneous cancer of the bile duct, and its diagnosis is often challenging.


To provide insights into state-of-the-art approaches for the diagnosis of CCA.

Data Sources.—

Literature review via PubMed search and authors' experiences.


CCA can be categorized as intrahepatic or extrahepatic. Intrahepatic CCA is further classified into small-duct–type and large-duct–type, whereas extrahepatic CCA is classified into distal and perihilar according to site of origin within the extrahepatic biliary tree. Tumor growth patterns include mass forming, periductal infiltrating, and intraductal tumors. The clinical diagnosis of CCA is challenging and usually occurs at an advanced tumor stage. Pathologic diagnosis is made difficult by tumor inaccessibility and challenges in distinguishing CCA from metastatic adenocarcinoma to the liver. Immunohistochemical stains can assist in differentiating CCA from other malignancies, such as hepatocellular carcinoma, but no distinctive CCA-specific immunohistochemical profile has been identified. Recent advances in next-generation sequencing–based high-throughput assays have identified distinct genomic profiles of CCA subtypes, including genomic alterations that are susceptible to targeted therapies or immune checkpoint inhibitors. Detailed histopathologic and molecular evaluations of CCA by pathologists are critical for correct diagnosis, subclassification, therapeutic decision-making, and prognostication. The first step toward achieving these goals is to acquire a detailed understanding of the histologic and genetic subtypes of this heterogeneous tumor group. Here, we review state-of-the-art approaches that should be applied to establish a diagnosis of CCA, including clinical presentation, histopathology, staging, and the practical use of genetic testing methodologies.

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Author notes

This review was funded by Incyte Corporation (Wilmington, Delaware).

The authors have no relevant financial interest in the products or companies described in this article.