The liver is the largest internal organ in our body. It performs more than 500 different vital functions. One of which is the liver acts like a detoxifier of the body, helping the body to get rid of toxins. It has a system of tubes within it called the bile ducts which collects a chemical called bile that is produced by the liver. Bile is needed by us to help us to digest fat, along with the help of enzymes produced by the pancreas. This bile is transported by the bile ducts into a main tube outside the liver called the common bile duct, which connects the liver to the small intestine (duodenum). The gallbladder is a small bag-like organ that is attached to the common bile duct. Its function is to store excess bile.
Bile Duct Cancer is cancer of the cells lining the bile ducts. The scientific term for this kind of cancer is called cholangiocarcinoma.
Bile duct cancers are classified based on which part of the bile ducts the cancer occurs:
Bile duct cancers are difficult to treat. Fortunately, they are uncommon.
A person should seek urgent medical attention if he notices his urine to be dark coloured and/or his stools to be pale in colour. These are usually the signs that accompany jaundice. Sometimes a close friend or relative may notice a yellowish discoloration of the person’s eye or skin. Another peculiar symptom that accompanies jaundice is a generalized itch of the body.
When a person exhibits one or more of these symptoms, he should consult his doctor to perform a blood test to check if he indeed has jaundice.
Treatment will depend on how advanced the cancer is and the health of the patient. Bile duct cancer is a difficult cancer to treat and a multi-disciplinary approach is needed to determine the most appropriate treatment for the person. Surgery offers the best chance of a long-term cure. Other treatment options include chemotherapy, biological therapy and radiation therapy.
In cases where surgery is not possible, and the person is jaundiced, doctors may stent the bile ducts so as to relieve the jaundice.
Cancers, including cancer of the bile duct, are due to genetic mutations of the cells.
As a result of these gene mutations, the bile duct cells start to multiply uncontrollably. These cells also have the ability to detach from the bile duct and invade into the blood stream and spread to other parts of the body, or invade into the adjacent organs around the bile duct.
What are the risk factors of developing bile duct cancer?