Cholangiocarcinoma, cancer affecting the bile ducts, causes jaundice in patients. Read this article to know more.
Overview: Cholangiocarcinoma is a type of cancer that can occur in the bile ducts. The other name for cholangiocarcinoma is bile duct cancer. It is a very rare type of cancer. We have to understand the anatomy and functions of the bile duct to know about cholangiocarcinoma in a better way. There are many medical conditions that can affect the bile duct, but the cancer of the bile duct is the most severe one.
The bile duct is a very thin tube that is known to enter the small intestine from the liver. The important function of the bile duct is to produce a fluid called bile. This bile is required for the digestive process. The structure of the bile duct can be roughly classified into two halves. The upper half of the bile duct is known to be associated with the liver, and the lower half of the bile duct is associated with the pancreas.
Cancer that is known to develop in the bile duct is called in medical terms as cholangiocarcinoma. If cancer occurs in the bile duct, there will be a total dysfunction of the secretions in the bile duct. This type of cancer can occur at any age. Cholangiocarcinoma is classified based on its site of occurrence. They are:
Distal Cholangiocarcinoma: Distal cholangiocarcinoma occurs in the part of the bile duct that is very near to the small intestine.
Hilar Cholangiocarcinoma: Hilar cholangiocarcinoma is a type of cancer that surrounds the liver tissues. The other name of hilar cholangiocarcinoma is perihilar cholangiocarcinoma.
Intrahepatic Cholangiocarcinoma: Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma occurs in the portion of the bile duct found within the liver tissues. In some patients, this type of cancer is classified as liver cancer.
The precise cause for cholangiocarcinoma is still under medical research. Certain reports have proved that genetic mutations cause cholangiocarcinoma. The parasitic infections are also known to contribute to the occurrence of cholangiocarcinoma.
Older Age: People who are more than 50 years of age are most commonly affected. The risk is higher in older patients.
Smoking: The habit of smoking is known to elevate the risk of cholangiocarcinoma.
Parasitic infection: The raw or partially-cooked food might have infestations of liver parasites, which is known to increase the risk of cholangiocarcinoma. Complications from parasitic infection are predominantly noted in South-East Asia.
Chronic Liver Disease: Long-term liver diseases along with scarring increase the risk of cholangiocarcinoma.
Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis: Scarring and hardening of the bile duct increase the risk.
The patient might experience general symptoms like:
Loss of appetite.
Other serious symptoms experienced by people with cholangiocarcinoma are:
Yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes (jaundice).
Intensely Itchy Skin: When the bilirubin level increases, there would be an itching sensation in the skin.
White-Colored and Greasy Stool: The brown color of the stools is due to the bilirubin content. If sufficient bilirubin does not reach the intestine, then white-colored stools are seen.
Abdominal Pain: Bile duct cancer does not cause any pain in most cases. But, if the tumor is very large, then there are chances for abdominal pain. This pain is aggravated when the tumor is found on the right side.
Dark-Colored Urine: When the blood is flooded with high bilirubin levels, then the urine might turn yellow.
Unintended Weight Loss: Patients who are affected by bile duct cancer do not feel hungry resulting in weight loss.
The most common health problem faced by patients with cholangiocarcinoma is jaundice. The cancer obstructs the bile duct resulting in bile accumulation within the liver or gallbladder. In a normal individual, bile leaves the liver as a greenish-yellow material. This color of the bile is due to the pigment called bilirubin. In bile duct cancer, the patient is unable to excrete the bile, which in the long run results in release of bilirubin into the blood circulation resulting in jaundice. It then enters different parts of the body, causing yellowish discoloration of the skin and whites of the eye. Jaundice is not always caused by bile duct cancer, but it can also be due to infections like hepatitis or bile duct blockage caused by gallstones.
If the doctor suspects cholangiocarcinoma, you will be asked to undergo the following tests.
Liver Function Test: The effective functioning of the liver will be identified using a liver function test.
Test for Tumor Marker: The level of antigen for cancer (90-9) will be estimated in your blood. This will serve as a diagnostic tool to identify the overproduction of cancer cells, but it can be used only for provisional diagnosis.
Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP): It is a test for examining the structures of the bile duct using a small camera. Dyes might be necessary for carrying out this procedure.
Imaging techniques like computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP) are necessary.
A biopsy might also be a beneficial procedure.
Treatment is planned according to the stage and extent of cancer. Various imaging procedures are helpful for this purpose. The different treatment options for cholangiocarcinoma are:
Surgery: The doctors perform the surgery to remove the tumor from the bile duct. If there is additional involvement of other organs, part of them might also be resected.
Transplantation of the Liver: A healthy donor can help in replacing the unhealthy liver of the patient. This has a lot of health benefits for the patient.
Biliary Drainage: Biliary drainage is a bypass surgery method to keep the bile duct open and restore the bile flow.
In addition to this, routine treatment procedures like chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and photodynamic therapy can also be recommended for the patient.
Contact icliniq.com for more help.
Last reviewed at:
08 Sep 2021 - 4 min read
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