Bile Duct Cancer (Cholangiocarcinoma) Symptoms - Diagnosis - Treatment

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Bile duct cancer is called cholangiocarcinoma. It originates in the ducts either within the liver (intrahepatic cancer), the point where the bile ducts emerge from the liver (perihilar cancer) or outside the liver (extrahepatic cancer). Perihilar cancers are most common among the three.

About Liver and Bile - The liver secretes a juice called bile that helps in digestion of dietary fat. Bile travels through a network of channels called bile ducts. These channels start in the liver where small ductules join to form bigger ducts. They emerge from the liver as two main branches, the left and right hepatic ducts. These branches join to form the common hepatic duct outside the liver. The common hepatic duct in turn fuses with the cystic duct coming from the gall bladder to form the common bile duct. The common bile duct ends in the first part of the intestine called the duodenum.

Bile Duct Cancer

Bile duct cancer is seen more commonly in Asia than in the West. The approximate incidence rate of intrahepatic cancer in Thailand is 96/100000 men and 38/100000 women and in South Korea it is 75/100000 men and 16/100000 women. In the United States, it is approximately 0.85/100000 people with a male to female ratio of 1.5. Three to four thousand new cases of bile duct cancer are diagnosed in the United States every year and the number is on the rise. Conditions that cause irritation of the bile duct predispose a person to cancer.

Symptoms of bile duct cancer include:
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Jaundice
Cancers outside the liver (extrahepatic cancers) in addition cause symptoms due to obstruction to flow of bile such as pale stools and dark urine.

The diagnosis of bile duct cancer is done with blood tests and radiological tests.

Treatment depends on the stage of the cancer. Unfortunately, many cases are diagnosed at a late stage when they cannot be completely cured.

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