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Bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma): Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

  • Posted on- Sep 21, 2015
  • 761 Views

Bile duct cancer, also referred to as cholangiocarcinoma is a kind of cancer that develops in the bile ducts (slender tubes) that carry the digestive fluid bile through your liver. It is an uncommon cancer that is mostly seen in people with over 50 years of age. Nature of this cancer is aggressive because it progresses quickly and is difficult to treat. Bile duct cancer can cause jaundice, intense itchiness of the skin, and white-colored stools.

Potential risk factors and causes of bile duct cancer

Unfortunately, the factors behind bile duct cancer are unknown. However, certain factors that can increase your risk of bile duct cancer are given below:

  • Patients suffering from chronic inflammatory bowel condition, called ulcerative colitis are at an increased risk of developing this type of cancer. Moreover, people with an inflammatory condition that affects the bile ducts (sclerosing cholangitis) are also at an increased risk.
  • People who are born with irregularities of the bile ducts like choledochal cysts are at risk of developing bile duct cancer.
  • Although bile duct cancers are not restricted to age, more than two out of three occur in people over 65. It is not infectious and cannot be passed on others.

Signs and symptoms associated with bile duct cancer

Bile duct cancer can block the flow of bile from the liver to the intestine. When this happens, the bile flows back into the blood and body tissues resulting in the skin and whites of the eyes to become yellow. The urine also turns dark yellow along with stools becoming pale. The skin may also become itchy. Other probable symptoms include abdominal pain, loss of appetite, high fever and weight loss. These symptoms may not be exact signs of bile duct cancer but it is important to get them checked by a physician.

Diagnosis and tests for bile duct cancer

Diagnosis of bile duct cancer involves the following tests:
  • Ultrasound Scan: An ultrasound scan is performed to make up a picture of the bile ducts and surrounding organs. The test is painless and only takes a few minutes.
  • CT Scan: A CT scan gives a three-dimensional picture of the inside of the body using a series of x-rays. CT scans use little amounts of radiation, which is non-hurting. The scan is painless and takes 10-30 minutes.
  • MRI Scan: It is similar to CT scan but uses magnetism to build up a three-dimensional picture of the inside of the body.
  • Angiogram: This is a test to view blood vessels. The bile duct carries blood to and from the liver. An angiogram is perfect to analyze whether any of them are affected by the cancer.
  • Biopsy: The only way your doctor can be sure of a bile duct cancer is by having a biopsy. A sample is taken from the affected area of the bile duct and then looked at under a microscope.

Available treatment for bile duct cancer
  • Surgery: A major treatment for bile duct cancer is surgical removal of the cancer. It depends upon the size of the cancer and whether it has begun to spread into nearby tissues. Removal of the bile ducts, Partial liver resection and Surgery to relieve blockage are some of the surgeries performed.
  • Radiotherapy: Radiotherapy treats cancer by using high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells, while making sure no harm is done to normal cells. It may be given externally from a radiotherapy machine, or internally by placing radioactive material close to the tumor.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs to destroy cancer cells. These medicines interfere with cancer cell production. The therapy is useful post surgery if all the cancer couldn't be removed by the operation. It is also an option when a surgery is not possible.
  • Photodynamic therapy (PDT): It uses a blend of laser light and a light-sensitive drug to destroy cancer cells. The therapy is known to relieving the symptoms of bile duct cancer.

It is difficult to get to the terms of cancer because the treatment process can be a very stressful experience. You may experience emotional changes. Talking to family members, friends and your doctor is the best thing.

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