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Bile duct cancer treatment and diagnosis

Bile ducts are part of the digestive system and are the tubes that link the liver and gallbladder to the small bowel. Bile duct cancer is rare. You’re more likely to get it if you’re aged over 65.

Bile duct cancer treatment at GenesisCare

What is bile duct cancer?

Bile ducts transport bile, which helps break down the fat in our food. Bile duct cancer develops in part of the bile duct lining, when abnormal cells start to multiply. They can spread into other areas including the gallbladder or pancreas.

Cancer can begin in any part of the ducts including:

  • Intra-hepatic region: ducts inside the liver
  • Extra-hepatic region: ducts outside the liver

Extra-hepatic bile ducts are split into two areas:

  • Hilar – where the right and left ducts meet, below the liver
  • Distal – the lower section of the ducts, near the bowel

Causes of bile duct cancer

Doctors don’t yet know what causes bile duct cancer, but some things can make it more likely. These include:

  • Abnormal bile ducts
  • Bile duct stones
  • Hepatitis B or C
  • Infection with a parasite called liver fluke (most common in Africa and Asia)
  • Liver disease (cirrhosis)
  • Long-term inflammatory conditions such as ulcerative colitis or primary sclerosing cholangitis

Signs and symptoms

What are the symptoms of bile duct cancer?

In its early stages, you may not have any symptoms. As the cancer develops, you may have:

  • Dark urine and pale stools
  • Extreme tiredness
  • High temperature (fever)
  • Itchy skin
  • Jaundice (skin and whites of eyes becoming yellow)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pain in your abdomen
  • Unexplained weight loss

Having these symptoms doesn’t mean you have bile duct cancer, but it’s best to get them checked by a doctor. The sooner your cancer is detected, the better the chances of treating it successfully.

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Diagnosis

Your doctor will discuss your symptoms with you. You may be referred to hospital for further tests including:

  • Biopsy – where a tiny sample of tissue is taken for analysis
  • Blood tests
  • Scans including ultrasound, CT and MRI
  • X-rays
  • Endoscopy (camera tests)

Treatment

Bile duct cancers are difficult to treat and your specialist doctor (oncologist) will discuss the treatment options with you. Possible treatments include surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy kills cancer cells. It’s used in the early stages of cancer treatment or after it has started to spread. It can also be used to relieve pain and discomfort from cancer that has spread.

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Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is medication that treats your cancer. The drugs kill cancer cells, preventing them from dividing and spreading further.

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