Cholangiocarcinoma is the growth of cancer cells in the bile duct. The bile duct are a number of branching tubes that carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder and small intestine. Bile is a fluid that helps digest food and eliminate waste from the body.
Cholangiocarcinomas can be divided by their location: Perihilar—develops at the point where the branches of the bile duct join and leave the liver (most common form)Intrahepatic—develops in the bile duct branches that are located in the liverDistal—develops in the area of the bile duct that is closer to the small intestine
Common Bile Duct
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Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Normally, cells divide in a regulated manner. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms, called a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant growths. These growths can invade nearby tissues. Cancer that has invaded nearby tissues can then spread to other parts of the body.
Defects on specific genes may lead to the growth of cancer cells in the bile duct. Other causes may be related to a combination of genetics and environment.
Cholangiocarcinoma is more common in people 65 years and older. Other factors that may increase your chance of cholangiocarcinoma include:
Having a chronic condition that causes inflammation of the bile duct such as primary sclerosing cholangitis,
, bile duct stones, choledochal cysts
obesityFamily history of bile duct cancerCirrhosis of the liver
or another condition that affects the liver or bile duct such as polycystic liver disease, Caroli syndrome
Exposure to a radioactive substance or toxic chemicalsInfection by parasites called liver flukes (more common in Asian countries)
Other possible risk factors are: SmokingDiabetesHepatitis B
In the early stages of the cancer, there may not be any symptoms. As the cancer grows, symptoms may include:
Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes—
jaundiceAbdominal painFeverWeakness, fatigueDecrease in appetite, weight lossItchy skinDark urine, pale stool
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Blood tests will help to evaluate how the liver and gallbladder are working. These tests may also help to find tumor marker, indicators of cancer in the body.
Imaging tests can evaluate the bile duct and surrounding structures. These may include: UltrasoundCT scanMRI scanPET scanEndoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography
Other tests may may include: Laparoscopy
—thin tube with a lighted camera on one end to examine the bile duct
—a sample of bile duct cells is removed and examined
The physical exam combined with all of your test results, will help to determine the stage of cancer you have. Staging is used to guide your treatment plan. Like other cancers, cholangiocarcinoma is staged from I-IV. Stage I is a very localized cancer, while stage IV indicates a spread to other parts of the body.
The treatment plan depends on the stage of the cancer and your overall health.
Surgery may be done to try to remove the cancer. The bile duct reaches into many organs. Surgery may involve more than one organ. For example: Perihilar bile duct cancer—may include the removal of part of the liver, bile duct, and gall bladderIntrahepatic bile duct cancer—may include the removal of part of the liver or an entire lobeDistal bile duct cancer—may include the removal of part of the pancreas and small intestine
If the cancer cannot be removed, other types of surgery may be done to relieve symptoms. A small tube may be placed inside of a cancerous bile duct to allow bile to flow through it.
is used to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Different forms include:
External radiation therapy—radiation directed at the tumor from a source outside the bodyInternal radiation therapy—radioactive materials placed into the body in or near the cancer cells
Radiation may be done along with surgery. It may also be the main treatment if cancer cannot be removed.
is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. This treatment may be used before or after surgery. If the tumor cannot be removed, chemotherapy may be given, either alone or in combination with radiation therapy.
Clinical trials may be recommended if treatment options are limited for your type of cancer. These trials could offer treatments that are not currently available to most. Talk to your doctor about these options.
To help reduce your chance of cholangiocarcinoma: Maintain a healthy weight
Take precautions to prevent cirrhosis, like getting a
hepatitis B vaccine
and avoid or limit alcohol
Do not smokeAvoid exposure to toxins
Bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma). American Cancer Society website. Available at:
http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003084-pdf.pdf. Updated March 2, 2011. Accessed June 18, 2013.
Bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma). Johns Hopkins Medicine website. Available at:
http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/liver_tumor_center/conditions/bile_duct_cancer.html. Accessed June 18, 2013.
Bile duct cancer. Cancer website. Available at:
http://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/bile-duct-cancer. Updated February 2012. Accessed June 18, 2013.
Last reviewed December 2015 by Mohei Abouzied, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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