Bile Duct Cancer

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Cholangiocarcinoma is a cancer of the bile ducts which drain bile from the liver into the small intestine. Other biliary tract cancers include pancreatic cancer, gallbladder cancer, and cancer of the ampulla of Vater. Cholangiocarcinoma is a relatively rare adenocarcinoma (glandular cancer), with an annual incidence of 1–2 cases per 100,000 in the Western world, but rates of cholangiocarcinoma have been rising worldwide over the past several decades.

Prominent symptoms of cholangiocarcinoma include abnormal liver function tests, abdominal pain, jaundice, weight loss, and sometimes generalized itching, fever, or changes in stool or urine color. The disease is diagnosed through a combination of blood tests, imaging, endoscopy, and sometimes surgical exploration. Known risk factors for cholangiocarcinoma include primary sclerosing cholangitis (an inflammatory disease of the bile ducts), congenital liver malformations, infection with the parasitic liver flukes Opisthorchis viverrini or Clonorchis sinensis, and exposure to Thorotrast (thorium dioxide), a chemical formerly used in medical imaging. However, most patients with cholangiocarcinoma have no specific risk factors.

Cholangiocarcinoma is considered to be an incurable and rapidly lethal disease unless all of its tumors can be fully resected (cut out surgically). There is no potentially curative treatment except surgery, but most patients have advanced because of this inoperable disease after diagnosis. Patients with cholangiocarcinoma are generally managed, though never cured, with chemotherapy or radiation therapy as well as palliative care measures, and these are also used as adjuvant therapies post-surgically in cases where resection has been successful. Some areas of ongoing medical research in cholangiocarcinoma include the use of newer targeted therapies (such as erlotinib) or photodynamic therapy for treatment, and the concentration of byproducts of cancer stromal cell formation in the blood for diagnosis.

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