Bile Duct Cancer

Bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma) is rare. It is almost always a type of cancer called adenocarcinoma, which starts in the lining of the bile duct.

If cancer starts in the part of the bile ducts within the liver, it is known as intra-hepatic. If it starts in bile ducts outside the liver, it is known as extra-hepatic.

We hope this information answers your questions. If you have any further questions, you can ask your doctor or nurse at the hospital where you are having your treatment.

The bile ducts

The bile ducts are tubes that carry bile. The main function of bile is to break down fats in food to help our digestion. Bile is made by the liver and stored in the gall bladder.

The bile ducts connect the liver and gall bladder to the small bowel (see diagram below). When people have had their gall bladder removed, bile flows directly from the liver into the small intestine.

The bile ducts and gall bladder are known as the biliary system.

Causes and possible risk factors of bile duct cancer

The cause of most bile duct cancers is unknown. There are a number of risk factors that can increase your risk of developing bile duct cancer. These include:

Inflammatory conditions
People who have a chronic inflammatory bowel condition, known as ulcerative colitis, have an increased risk of developing this type of cancer. People who have primary sclerosing cholangitis, which is an inflammatory condition that affects the bile ducts, are also at an increased risk of developing bile duct cancer.

Abnormal bile ducts
People who are born with (congenital) abnormalities of the bile ducts, such as choledochal cysts, have a higher risk of developing bile duct cancer.

In Africa and Asia, a large number of bile duct cancers are thought to be caused by infection with a parasite known as the liver fluke.

Increasing age
Although bile duct cancers can occur in younger people, more than two out of three occur in people over 65.

Bile duct cancer, like other cancers, is not infectious and can’t be passed on to other people.

Signs and symptoms of bile duct cancer

Cancer in the bile ducts can block the flow of bile from the liver to the intestine. This causes bile to flow back into the blood and body tissues, and the skin and whites of the eyes to become yellow (jaundice). It also causes the urine to become a dark yellow color and stools (bowel motions) to look pale. The skin may become itchy.

Other possible symptoms include discomfort in the tummy area (abdomen), loss of appetite, high temperatures (fevers) and weight loss.

These symptoms can be caused by many things other than bile duct cancer, but it’s important to get them checked by your doctor.

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