Editor’s note: This blog post was medically reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD
Bile duct cancer, also known as cholangiocarcinoma, is a rare and life-threatening cancer that affects the tubes carrying bile from the liver to the gallbladder and small intestine.
As February is Bile Duct Cancer Awareness Month, this guide aims to increase awareness and support research of this type of cancer.
Table of contents
- Bile Duct Cancer Awareness: What You Need To Know
- What is Bile Duct Cancer?
- Signs and Symptoms of Bile Duct Cancer
- Who is at Risk of Developing Bile Duct Cancer?
- How Do I Reduce the Risk of Bile Duct Cancer?
- Diagnosing Bile Duct Cancer
- Other Frequently Asked Questions About Bile Duct Cancer
- Additional Resources and Advocacy Groups for Bile Duct Cancer Awareness
- Summing Up
Bile Duct Cancer Awareness: What You Need To Know
- Bile duct cancer affects fewer than 3 people out of every 100,000 each year, or about 8,000 cases per year.
- Risk factors for bile duct cancer include primary sclerosing cholangitis and primary biliary cholangitis, two types of liver diseases. Infection with a worm parasite known as the Chinese liver fluke (clonorchis sinensis) may also lead to bile duct cancer.
- Symptoms of bile duct cancer include itchy skin, abdominal pain, jaundice, weight loss, nausea and vomiting, fever, and dark urine.
- Diagnosis of bile duct cancer can be done by imaging tests such as CT scans, MRI scans, PET scans, and biopsies.
- Treatment of bile duct cancer may involve a range of therapies, including surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy.
- Research on bile duct cancer is ongoing and clinical trials are testing new therapies and treatment strategies.
- World Cholangiocarcinoma Awareness Day is February 16, 2023. During this day (and throughout February), a dedicated effort is made to educate the public on what bile duct cancer is, how to prevent or treat it and to increase fundraising for further research and cancer support for caregivers.
- The awareness ribbon color for Gallbladder and Bile Duct Cancer Awareness Month is green.
What is Bile Duct Cancer?
Bile duct cancer is a rare cancer affecting the tubes (ducts) that carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder and small intestine. Bile is fluid made by the liver that aids in the digestion of fats.
Bile duct cancer can form in the cells of any portion of the bile duct network, spreading to other organs such as the liver or pancreas.
Bile duct cancer is categorized by where cancer was found in the bile duct:
- Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma forms in the bile ducts inside the liver.
- Extrahepatic bile duct cancer forms in the hilum and distal region of the extrahepatic bile duct.
Signs and Symptoms of Bile Duct Cancer
Some signs and symptoms of bile duct cancer overlap with gallbladder cancer and other related health issues. Medical diagnosis would help determine which cancer is present, or if gallstones are causing cancer-like symptoms.
These symptoms include:
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dark urine
Patients suffering from bile duct cancer may have some of these symptoms, but not all of them, and often not until the more advanced stages of the cancer. Most cancer patients experience few recognizable symptoms at early stages.
Who is at Risk of Developing Bile Duct Cancer?
Anyone can be at risk of developing bile duct cancer, although certain factors can increase the risk.
Bile duct cancer is more common among those living in Southeast Asia, due to the greater prevalence of Chinese liver fluke parasite infection in the area.
Bile duct cancer is also more likely to develop in those with a history of chronic inflammation or infection of the bile ducts (cholangitis), chronic ulcerative colitis, or bile duct cysts.
Cancer growth in the gallbladder may also adversely affect risk of bile duct cancer, as can an unhealthy diet and lifestyle.
How Do I Reduce the Risk of Bile Duct Cancer?
As with other types of cancer, there is no guaranteed way to prevent bile duct cancer.
However, the American Cancer Society recommends the following steps to reduce your risk of bile duct cancer:
- Eat a healthy diet. A diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in processed and red meats can help reduce your risk for bile duct cancer.
- Exercise as regularly as possible. Regular physical activity is crucial for long-lasting health.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese increases your risk for various chronic illnesses.
- Limit alcohol consumption.
- Quit smoking and avoid tobacco products.
- Protect yourself against exposure to chemicals such as asbestos, radon, or other radioactive substances.
- Get vaccinated against the hepatitis B virus (HBV) when possible.
- Take precautions to avoid contracting blood-borne or sexually transmitted infections, such as the HBV and hepatitis C virus.
Learn more: Best Practices to Help Reduce Cancer Risk
Diagnosing Bile Duct Cancer
Bile duct cancer diagnosis involves a series of tests to detect, diagnose, and stage cancer.
It typically starts with a physical exam to check for signs of disease. The doctor will also take a history of the patient’s health and past illnesses and treatments.
The next step is to test liver function through a blood sample to measure the levels of bilirubin and alkaline phosphatase, which can indicate liver disease. Tumor marker tests may also diagnose or monitor the condition.
Imaging tests are used to identify the location and extent of cancer. These tests include:
- An ultrasound exam of the bile ducts
- A CT scan of the biliary tract
- Abdominal and pelvic MRI
- Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP)
These imaging tests may be helpful in determining the location and extent of the cancer. Each case is different, and patients should consult with a medical professional to discuss the best treatment plan for their individual needs.
Next, a biopsy may also be performed to obtain a tissue sample for further examination, depending on the patient’s ability to undergo surgery. Different biopsy procedures include a laparoscopy, percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography (PTC), endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), and endoscopic ultrasound (EUS).
The biopsy results also help determine the stage of cancer and plan treatment.
Other Frequently Asked Questions About Bile Duct Cancer
Is bile duct cancer hereditary?
No, bile duct cancer is not hereditary. Genetic factors related to cholangiocarcinoma are usually acquired during the patient’s life, rather than being inherited.
What is the life expectancy of someone with bile duct cancer?
The life expectancy of someone with bile duct cancer will depend on several factors, such as the stage of cancer, treatment plan, and overall health of the patient.
Do certain diets lead to an increased risk of cancer?
No direct scientific evidence points to any diet that increases the risk for bile duct cancer. However, it is generally recommended to increase the intake of fresh fruits and vegetables and reduce the intake of processed foods, red meat, and other products high in fat and sodium, as part of a healthy lifestyle to reduce cancer risk.
Additional Resources and Advocacy Groups for Bile Duct Cancer Awareness
- Liver and Bile Duct Cancer – National Cancer Institute
- Global Cholangiocarcinoma Alliance
- Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation
It also helps to get involved in activities that help promote bile duct cancer awareness. These include:
- Sharing information about bile duct cancer with your friends, family and acquaintances on social media.
- Donating to cancer research organizations and foundations supporting bile duct cancer research and treatment.
- If you know someone who has been diagnosed with bile duct cancer, reach out to offer your support and help.
- Raise awareness of bile duct cancer by talking about it on World Cholangiocarcinoma Day and wearing the green awareness ribbon this month.
- Volunteer for bile duct cancer-related organizations and charities.
It’s crucial to be aware of the signs and symptoms of bile duct cancer and seek medical attention if you experience any of them. Early detection and diagnosis can improve the chances for better outcomes.
Whole-body MRI screening is a powerful imaging test to help detect abnormalities in your body before critical issues arise. For example, the Full Body Scan by Ezra screens for potential early cancer in up to 13 organs, including the liver and gallbladder.
Not yet ready for a scan? Calculate your cancer risk in 5 minutes or less.
You can also schedule a call with our team to learn more. Contact us at (888) 402-3972 or firstname.lastname@example.org