Bile duct adenomas are benign tumors that grow inside the bile duct. They’re fairly rare and not usually a reason for concern. Sometimes, they may require treatment in case they become cancerous.

Bile is a fluid made by your liver and stored in your gallbladder. This liquid, which aids in the digestion process, moves through your body through small tubes called bile ducts.

Adenoma refers to a benign (noncancerous) tumor. So, bile duct adenomas are small, noncancerous growths found in your liver or just outside of it. They’re also sometimes called peribiliary gland hamartomas.

Though research on these tumors remains fairly limited, existing evidence suggests that they’re very uncommon.

Here’s what to know about bile duct adenomas, including how to tell if you may have one and whether they require treatment.

Symptoms of bile duct adenomas may include:

Since these tumors are so small — typically between 1 and 20 millimeters — and usually found inside your liver, they usually go undetected until an autopsy or surgery is performed for another reason.

People of any age and gender can develop these tumors.

Most of the time, bile duct adenomas don’t pose any cause for major concern. There’s a low risk they’ll grow in size or becoming malignant. That means they’re unlikely to spread to other areas of your body.

That said, they may sometimes grow as a precursor to bile duct cancer. Bile duct cancer is rare, and there’s no standard screening test to check for it.

There’s also a chance bile duct adenomas may grow in size and become painful or uncomfortable. If this happens, your care team may recommend removal.

Doctors often can’t easily tell a malignant tumor from a non-malignant one without surgery since they may appear similar on imaging scans. But large or multiple tumors may point to cancer.

If your doctor has any doubts about the type of tumor you have, they’ll likely recommend surgery, just in case.

Bile duct adenomas are often discovered by accident during an abdominal surgery or autopsy.

If you have symptoms, your doctor may also try to detect the presence of a cancerous tumor through various tests, including:

Again, if your care team can’t determine whether your tumor may be cancerous, they may suggest removing it via surgery as a precaution.

You likely won’t need treatment for a bile duct adenoma unless it causes pain or discomfort or may be cancerous.

In some cases, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the tumor. Surgery is typically the only way to determine for certain whether a tumor is cancerous, so it may be a good option if you have other tumors or any disease of the liver.

Types of surgery include:

  • Endoscopic mucosal resection: This procedure involves inserting an endoscope tube down your throat and removing bits of the tumor with a scalpel. This method can only treat precancerous or early stage growths, but only those near where your bile duct opens into your intestine. There’s also a chance these growths may return.
  • Local resection: A local resection involves cutting out parts of the tumor. Your care team may recommend this procedure if they believe your tumor is benign but want to lower the chances of it becoming malignant in the future.
  • Pancreaticoduodenectomy (Whipple procedure): If you have growths in other areas of the digestive tract or your care team suspects bile duct cancer, they may recommend a Whipple procedure. This process involves removing part of the small intestine, the gallbladder, the common bile duct, and the head of the pancreas.

If doctors determine that the tumor is cancerous, they may recommend other treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Bile duct adenomas are rare, noncancerous growths that may form inside or outside the liver.

They’re not usually a reason for concern. But since it can be difficult to distinguish between benign and malignant bile duct growths, a doctor may still recommend surgical intervention to remove them, just to be on the safe side.

Your care team can offer more personalized guidance for your specific situation.