Patients with carcinoma of the biliary tract have a poor prognosis because the disease is often unresectable at diagnosis. Intraluminal brachytherapy has been reported as an effective treatment for localized cholangiocarcinoma of the biliary tract. The purpose of our study was to analyse the survival of patients treated with brachytherapy and make some recommendations regarding its use. Fifteen patients underwent brachytherapy via a trans-hepatic approach at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital from 1983 to 1993. Eleven patients had low-dose rate brachytherapy and four patients had high-dose rate treatment. There were nine males and six females. The median age was 64 years. Other treatment included bypass procedures in two patients, endoscopic stents in 14 patients and external beam irradiation in one patient. The median survival was 12.5 months and 47% of the patients survived 1 year. The only complication reported was cholangitis which was seen in one patient. There did not seem to be any difference in survival or complications between low- and high-dose rate brachytherapy. We conclude that the addition of intraluminal brachytherapy after biliary drainage prolongs survival and is a safe and effective treatment, but patients still have a high rate of local failure, and further studies will be needed to address this problem.