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Bile duct cancer is cancer in the tubes that carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder. Bile is fluid your liver makes and uses to digest fats in the food you eat.
Several different tubes form your liver's bile duct network. This network includes small ducts that join to form the left and right hepatic ducts inside the liver.
These ducts then merge and become the common hepatic duct outside the liver.
The common hepatic duct ends at the cystic duct, where the two ducts merge to form the common bile duct.
Bile duct cancer can occur in any of these tubes.
Bile duct cancer isn't very common. Doctors only diagnose about 8,000 people in the U.S. each year.
Bile duct cancer can begin in any of the bile ducts inside or outside the liver.
These cancers have distinct names, based on the cancer's location.
Extrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma starts in the bile ducts outside the liver, including the common hepatic duct and the cystic duct.
There are two types of extrahepatic bile duct cancers:
Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma is cancer that grows in the bile ducts inside the liver. This type of bile duct cancer is less common than extrahepatic cancers.
Cancer occurs when cells grow in ways that aren't normal. Changes in certain genes cause this abnormal growth.
Researchers don't think parents pass these gene changes to their children, but they're still studying this.
Some people with bile duct cancer form mutations in the genes that control how cells divide, causing tumors to grow. Others have oncogenes, or gene changes, that can cause cells to become cancerous.
You may be at higher risk for bile duct cancer if you have:
Bile duct cancer can cause liver problems such as cirrhosis and liver failure.
Sometimes, cancer can spread to other parts of the body.
Our expert liver doctors use the latest, most advanced treatments for bile duct cancer.
Sometimes, people with bile duct cancer don't have any symptoms when it first begins, known as early-stage cancer.
If cancer spreads or tumors block the bile ducts, symptoms can include:
Doctors will start with a physical exam to diagnose bile duct cancer.
They also use imaging tests to look for liver damage or signs that your liver isn't working as it should.
These tests include:
Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP) is a specialized imaging technique. It takes detailed pictures of the inside of the liver and bile ducts. Radio waves and magnets create pictures that doctors can see on a computer.
Doctors also use blood tests to help diagnose bile duct cancer, including:
Doctors may also confirm bile duct cancer with a biopsy, or tissue sample.
Doctors will look at your type of bile duct cancer and your overall health when designing your treatment.
Lifestyle changes can't cure your cancer, but they can help keep your liver healthy.
Doctors have a few options for treating bile duct cancer, including:
Doctors use different surgeries to treat bile duct cancer, such as: