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Bile Duct Cancer

Cholangiocarcinoma or Bile Duct Cancer

The liver produces a digestive juice called bile. Bill ducts transfer it to the gallbladder. The gallbladder stores this bile between meals. Finally, this bile is drained into the small intestine to assists the digestive process. Bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma) arises from the cells that line the bile ducts. It is a rare disease whose incidence is gradually increasing in the recent times.Bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma) may be seen in both the bile duct inside the liver and outside the liver but more common is in the duct outside the liver.

What is bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma)?

Bile duct cancer begins in the bile duct. So, for better understanding, we need to know about the bile duct. The bile ducts are the series of tiny thin tubes through which fluid named bile is transported from liver and gallbladder to the small intestine to help the digestion process. Left and right hepatic ducts that exit from the liver meet together to form common hepatic duct at a point called hilum. Down to the gallbladder, this hepatic duct meets a small duct named cystic duct. This is called common bile duct. This common bile duct passes through pancreas and meets with the pancreatic duct that empties in the small intestine at the ampulla of Vater. These are the entire bile duct system and depending on the location, bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma) is classified into following three types:

  • Intrahepatic bile duct cancer — this cancer starts to grow in the tiny bile duct branches of the liver.
  • Perihilar or hilar bile duct cancer — this cancer develops at the hilum, joining the area of the left and right hepatic ducts just leaving the liver.
  • Distal bile duct cancer — this cancer grows down the bile duct and closer to the small intestine.

What are the causes of bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma)?

The exact cause of any cancer is still unknown. Chronic infections of the bile ducts, certain chemicals, choledochal cysts and biliary worm infestations can lead to cholangiocarcinoma in the long run.

What are the symptoms of bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma)?

Unfortunately, bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma) does not generate any symptoms unless it reaches an advanced stage. However, abdominal pain, jaundice, itching, bloating, weight loss, enlarged liver, loss of appetite etc., are the symptoms which lead to further diagnosis to detect bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma).

What are the treatments for bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma)?

Treatment of biliary cancer is individualized for the patient.Tumours which arise from the liver need a liver resection.Tumours in the common bile duct need excision of the bile duct or a complex procedure called pancreaticoduodenectomy.These procedures are best performed by experienced hepatobiliary surgeons.Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are unfortunately not very effective in the treatment of biliary cancers.The only hope for cure stays in surgical resection.