Bile Duct Cancer-Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, And Treatment
What is bile duct cancer?
Bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma) is a rare type of cancer that occurs in the bile ducts. Bile ducts are slender tubes that connect the liver and small intestine. They carry bile from the liver to the small intestine. This cancer can occur anywhere along the bile ducts and can obstruct or block the bile ducts.
Bile duct cancer mostly occurs in people over the age of 65 and it affects men and women.
What causes bile duct cancer?
What exactly causes bile duct cancer is not known to the doctors. What is known is bile duct cancers grow very slowly and they don’t spread to other areas of the body quickly. Bile duct cancer is already quite advanced by the time it is found.
The following diseases or conditions may increase the risk of developing bile duct cancer:
- Primary sclerosing cholangitis
- Bile duct cysts
- Long-term biliary and liver inflammation
- Ulcerative colitis
- History of infection with parasitic worms, liver flukes
What are the symptoms of bile duct cancer?
Symptoms of bile duct cancer may include any of the following:
- Pain in the upper right abdomen that may radiate to the back
- Clay-colored stools and dark urine
- Fever and chills
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
How is bile duct cancer diagnosed?
Your doctor will perform a physical exam and review the symptoms. The doctor may also do some diagnostic tests for diagnosis.
The doctor may order the following tests to check for a tumor or blockage in the bile duct.
- Abdominal CT scan
- Abdominal ultrasound
- X-ray of the bile ducts (PTCA)
- ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography) with tissue biopsy
The doctor may also order the following blood tests:
- Liver function tests (alkaline phosphatase and bilirubin levels etc.)
- Complete blood count (CBC)
How is bile duct cancer treated?
The goal of treatment will be to remove cancer and the blockage it causes.
Mostly, surgery is the treatment of choice to remove cancer wherever possible. If the cancer is large, doctors may remove the entire liver, in which case a liver transplant will be needed. If cancer has already spread, surgery may not be possible.
Doctors usually give chemotherapy or radiation after surgery to decrease the risk of cancer returning.
Doctors sometimes give endoscopic therapy with stent placement to temporarily relieve blockages in the bile ducts. This therapy can also cure jaundice.
Doctors also sometimes opt for laser therapy in combination with light-activated chemotherapy to remove the blockage in the bile duct.
This feature is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute the expert guidance of a doctor. We advise seeing a doctor if you have any health concerns.