Bile duct cancer is also known as cholangiocarcinoma. It is a very rare kind that is detected in only around 2500 people in the United States every year. Bile duct cancer is a case where the cancerous cells grow in the biliary tract.
Is Bile Duct Cancer Aggressive?
Bile duct cancer grows in the bile duct lining and is usually diagnosed at an advanced and aggressive stage where the malignant cells have reached out to other parts of the body. Sadly, bile duct cancer does not show out many signs at an early stage.
Even if some symptoms are visible, it is very confusing which might relate to other diseases as well. It can be classified into two different categories in the advanced stage:
- Locally Advanced Bile Duct Cancer
- Metastatic, when the cancer cells have spread into other body parts
Locally Advanced Bile Duct Cancer:
Locally advanced bile duct cancer turns out to be a condition where cancer might spread to the lymph nodes or even to the nearby organs of the body. The cancer may also grow into the liver, small intestine, and pancreas or even into the major blood vessels. This clearly indicates that a surgery might be required. The tests are done to determine the stage of bile duct cancer. Bile duct cancer surgery is one of the most complicated surgeries and the patient need to be fit enough to bear through the operation.
Metastatic Bile Duct Cancer
Surgeons detect cancer to be metastatic if it has spread widely into the other parts of the body. This means cancer has traveled through the blood to the distant organs as well. Bile duct cancer usually spread to the lungs, bones and the inner part of the abdomen and other areas too.
Bile duct cancer grows in three locations within the bile drainage system:
- Intrahepatic, i.e., within the liver
- Extrahepatic or perihilar which grows just outside the liver
- Distal extrahepatic grows in the area where the bile duct enters the intestine.
Risk Associated with Bile Duct Cancer
Bile duct cancer grows very slowly and shows almost no signs in the early stages. The risk becomes greater with age. Therefore, the diagnosis is often delayed when the bile ducts are found to have been blocked. It restricts the flow of the bile fluid in the gallbladder and intestine. This may lead to the inflammation in the liver or pancreas depending upon the area of blockage.
Signs and Symptoms of Bile Duct Cancer
The symptoms of bile duct cancer, although late, but only occurs when the bile becomes incapable to drain fluid normally from the liver which leads to an inflammation in the liver. The other symptoms of bile duct cancer are yellowish skin and eyes, pain in abdomen, weight loss, itching, bloating, low fever, and the color of the urine and stool may darken. These symptoms are not visible till the cancer is metastasized. Pain in abdomen often shows up in a late stage which might be accompanied with enlargement of the liver.
Treatment of Bile Duct Cancer
- Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are the most suggested treatments for bile duct cancer.
- Photodynamic therapy for bile duct cancer is an alternative therapy that helps the tumor to shrink and also the symptoms are controlled.
- Radioembolization is suggested when the tumor cannot be removed through surgery. In this process, radioactive materials are pushed in the veins that help the tumor to shrink by restricting its blood supply.
How Long Do You Live with Bile Duct Cancer?
The recovery and the survival of the bile duct cancer patient depends on several factors like the location of the tumor, its stage, and the overall health of the patient. Prognosis is better if bile duct cancer has been detected at an early stage and if the cancer is only locally advanced. However, the chances are weak if the bile duct cancer is metastatic invading related areas, lymph nodes and tissues or even distant regions. If left undiagnosed and untreated, 50% of the bile duct cancer patients survive in first year, 20% in the second year, 10% in the third year, and finally the patient does not survive within five years.
When the tumor is removed totally, the survival chances of bile duct cancer patients are more, however depends on the location again.
Prevention of Bile Duct Cancer
The exact reason of bile duct cancer is still uncertain; hence the preventive measures are also undiscovered. Yet, preventing from cirrhosis, liver inflammation might prevent the occurrence. Moderate or no alcohol, Hepatitis B vaccination and prevention from Hepatitis C, no smoking, maintaining a healthy and balanced diet, physical activity and maintaining weight are also an added advantage when it comes to preventing bile duct cancer from occur.