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Bile Duct Cancer

Bile is an important digestive juice produced by the liver and stored in the gall bladder. The bile duct is a tube that runs from the liver and the gall bladder to the intestines and transports the bile to the intestines for digestion. Bile duct cancer is the development of tumors in the bile duct that blocks the tube and thus prevents the bile from flowing into the small intestine. Then the active ingredient bilirubin present in the bile begins to accumulate in the blood resulting in jaundice. Apart from jaundice, bile duct cancer may also present with the following symptoms:


  • Itching of skin
  • Light colored stools
  • Dark urine
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • weight loss

Risk factors

People with chronic inflammation of the bile duct have an increased risk of developing bile duct cancer. Bile duct stones, ulcerative colitis and an auto immune disease called primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) are some of the conditions that cause inflammation of the bile duct and scarring.

Polycystic liver disease, pancreatitis, irritable bowel syndrome and a congenital defect called Caroli's syndrome may also increase a person's bile duct cancer risks. People of Asian and Middle Eastern countries are prone to parasitic infection with a parasite called liver fluke. It is a water-borne parasite that can infect the bile duct and and cause cancer.

Aging and obesity also fall under the risk factors for bile duct cancer.


Diagnosis of bile duct cancer

Blood tests, diagnostic imaging tests and biopsy are the common methods followed to diagnose bile duct cancer. Blood tests are ordered to evaluate the functioning of the liver and gall bladder. Excess bilirubin in the blood indicates that there may be a problem with the gall bladder, liver or bile ducts. Liver function tests may be conducted to test for albumin, alkaline phosphatase, AST, ALT, and GGT.

Further, imaging tests like ultrasound, MRI, CT scan and Cholangiography are advised to reveal the presence of bile duct blockage and tumor through specialized X-ray images. Cholangiography is a highly sophisticated test that specifically looks into the bile duct to detect abnormalities. Different types of procedures are conducted using Cholangiography such as Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP) and Percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography (PTC).

Though imaging tests reveal the presence of tumor in the bile duct, it can only be confirmed through biopsy. Biopsy involves obtaining a small sample tissue from the tumor and examining it under a microscope. Biopsy also identifies the type of the tumor.


Treatment of bile duct cancer

1.Surgery
2.Radiation treatment
3.Chemotherapy
4.Palliative care

Surgery for the bile duct cancer is a complicated procedure due to its location in the body. Moreover surgery as a method of treatment is opted depending upon the location of the tumor and the extent of spread of the cancer. The surgical oncologist chooses to perform surgery only if he thinks the tumor can be removed successfully. In some cases the surgery may allow only a partial removal of the tumor, yet the surgeon may go ahead with the operation with the intention of relieving the patient of the symptoms of cancer and improve the quality of life. Few cases require a placement of metallic or a plastic stent to keep the bile duct open.

When the surgery is not the choice of treatment, oncologists opt for radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Very often, surgery is also followed by radiation therapy and chemotherapy to prevent the cancer from recurring.


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Collection of Pages - Last revised Date: October 16, 2017