From January 1988 through June 1996, 12 patients who had extrahepatic bile-duct cancer received preoperative radiotherapy at doses of 40.6 Gy to 58.4 Gy. At restaging, 1 patient was found to have liver metastases and the remaining 11 patients were taken to surgery. Nine patients underwent resection, and 8 of the 9 received intraoperative radiotherapy. Complications occurred in 4 patients, 3 of whom died postoperatively. The 2 patients who died of intraabdominal complications received both preoperative radiation doses of more than 55 Gy and intraoperative radiotherapy doses of 14 Gy or more. Histologic evidence of irradiation effects was present in all specimens. Irradiation effects on perineural invasion were observed in varying degrees. Two of the four patients who had marked irradiation effects on perineural invasion developed local recurrence, which was found at autopsy to have infiltrated the hepatic hilum without obstructing the hepatic ducts. One patient who had minimal irradiation effects on perineural invasion developed local recurrence with obstructing the hepatic ducts. Of the 2 patients who had positive margins, the patient with marked irradiation effects on perineural invasion survived 18 months, but the patient with slight irradiation effects on perineural invasion survived only 5 months. The high complication rate requires modification of this strategy. The propriety of combining preoperative radiotherapy with intraoperative radiotherapy as well as the radiation dose should be reinvestigated.