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February: Bile Duct Cancer Awareness Month

What is Bile Duct Cancer?

Bile Duct Cancer or Cholangiocarcinoma is a type of cancer that impacts the tubes connecting your liver to your small intestine. These ducts carry bile, which aids with the digestion of fats and proteins. It is a rare type of cancer that can occur at any age, but mostly impacts those above the age of 50.

What are its causes?

Although it is unclear what causes the genetic mutation responsible for cancer, the following risk factors significantly increase your risk of developing Cholangiocarcinoma:

  • Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis: a disease marked by the scarring of bile ducts.
  • Chronic liver disease: involves a wide array of liver disorders that may potentially cause long term liver damage. Chronic alcohol consumption has been tied with some facets of liver disease.
  • Congenital bile duct problems: certain disorders present at birth, like choledochal cysts, increase cancer susceptibility.
  • A liver parasite: although uncommon in the United States of America, liver fluke infection that can occur from the consumption of raw or uncooked fish can increase your chances of acquiring this cancer.
  • Smoking: this increases one’s susceptibility to many forms of cancer including cholangiocarcinoma.

What are its signs and symptoms?

Symptoms may include intensely itchy skin, abdominal pain, fatigue, unintended weight loss, yellowing of the skin and whites of your eyes.

It is important to note that having one or some of these symptoms does not mean that you have Cholangiocarcinoma. If these symptoms present themselves, it is best to seek the advice of your doctor. They may refer you to a gastroenterologist, which is a specialist in digestive diseases.

How is diagnosis achieved?

If your specialist is provided with sufficient reason to consider the possibility of cholangiocarcinoma, then he may request one or more of the following tests:

  • Liver function: can indicate an underlying liver pathology that may be causing your symptoms.
  • Imaging tests: allow the doctor to see abnormalities in your internal organs that help determine the potential presence of cholangiocarcinoma.
  • A biopsy: this involves the removal of a tissue sample for further testing.
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP): This is a procedure that uses a small camera to examine your bile ducts for any potential abnormalities. This procedure may also be used to inject dye into the ducts to help better detect the potential presence of cancer during testing.

What can the Ezra scan do?

We employ the use of MRI technology to acquire a comprehensive full-body image. Although our screen is unable to garner a diagnosis, it can notify our radiologist of the potential presence of abnormal growths and tumors. Upon a potential finding, appropriate follow-up diagnostic testing will be recommended to confirm a diagnosis and facilitate early treatment. The type of MRI we use is a 3-Tesla MRI. This type of MRI produces the best quality image available to the general public.