Bile Duct Cancer

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Bile Duct Cancer

Bile Duct Cancer

Blog part -1

Have you developed Jaundice with itching?

Do not delay going to your doctor.

One of the causes of jaundice with itching can be due to bile duct cancer (chloangio carcinoma)

Bile Duct Cancer

Bile duct cancer is a rare but aggressive type of cancer.

Cholangiocarcinoma is the medical term sometimes used for bile duct cancer. If cancer starts in the part of the bile ducts within the liver, it is known as intra-hepatic. If it starts in bile ducts outside the liver, it is known as extra-hepatic.

The bile ducts

The bile ducts are tubes that carry bile. The main function of bile is to break down fats in food to help our digestion. Bile is made by the liver and stored in the gall bladder. The bile ducts connect the liver and gall bladder to the small bowel (see diagram below). When people have had their gall bladder removed, bile flows directly from the liver into the small intestine. The bile ducts and gall bladder are known as the biliary system.

Causes and possible risk factors of bile duct cancer

The cause of most bile duct cancers is unknown. There are a number of risk factors that can increase your risk of developing bile duct cancer. These include:

Inflammatory conditions
People who have a chronic inflammatory bowel condition, known as ulcerative colitis, have an increased risk of developing this type of cancer. People who have primary sclerosing cholangitis, which is an inflammatory condition that affects the bile ducts, are also at an increased risk of developing bile duct cancer.

Abnormal bile ducts
People who are born with (congenital) abnormalities of the bile ducts, such as choledochal cysts, have a higher risk of developing bile duct cancer.

In Africa and Asia, a large number of bile duct cancers are thought to be caused by infection with a parasite known as the liver fluke.

Although bile duct cancers can occur in younger people, more than two out of three occur in people over 65.Bile duct cancer, like other cancers, is not infectious and can't be passed on to other people

Signs and symptoms of bile duct cancer

Cancer in the bile ducts can block the flow of bile from the liver to the intestine. This causes bile to flow back into the blood and body tissues, and the skin and whites of the eyes to become yellow (jaundice). It also causes the urine to become a dark yellow colour and stools (bowel motions) to look pale. The skin may become itchy.
Other possible symptoms include discomfort in the tummy area (abdomen), loss of appetite, high temperatures (fevers), and weight loss. These symptoms can be caused by many things other than bile duct cancer, but it's important to get them checked by your doctor.

How bile duct cancer is diagnosed

Usually, you begin by seeing your GP, who will examine you. They will refer you to a hospital specialist for any necessary tests, expert advice and treatment.
At the hospital, the doctor will ask you about your general health and any previous medical problems. They will also examine you and take blood samples to check your general health and that your liver is working properly.

The following tests are commonly used to diagnose bile duct cancer:

Ultrasound scan
This uses sound waves to make up a picture of the bile ducts and surrounding organs. You'll usually be asked not to eat or drink anything for at least six hours before the scan. Once you’re lying comfortably on your back, a gel is spread on to your abdomen. A small device that produces sound waves is then rubbed over the area. The sound waves produce a picture on a computer. The test is painless and only takes a few minutes.

CT (computerised tomography) scan
A CT scan takes a series of x-rays that build up a three-dimensional picture of the inside of the body. The scan is painless and takes 10-30 minutes. CT scans use small amounts of radiation, which is very unlikely to hurt you or anyone you come in contact with. You will be asked not to eat or drink for at least four hours before the scan.
You may be given a drink or injection of a dye that allows particular areas to be seen more clearly. This may make you feel hot all over for a few minutes. If you’re allergic to iodine or have asthma, you could have a more serious reaction to the injection, so it's important to let your doctor know beforehand.

Spiral CT scan
In this test, the x-ray machine rotates continuously around the body to make cross-sectional pictures.

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan
This test is similar to a CT scan but uses magnetism, instead of x-rays, to build up a detailed picture of areas of your body. Before the scan you may be asked to complete and sign a checklist. This is to make sure it’s safe for you to have an MRI scan.
Before having the scan, you’ll be asked to remove any metal belongings, including jewelry. Some people are given an injection of dye into a vein in the arm. This is called a contrast medium and can help images from the scan show up more clearly. During the test, you will be asked to lie very still on a couch inside a long cylinder (tube) for about 30 minutes. It's painless but can be slightly uncomfortable, and some people feel a bit claustrophobic during the scan. It’s also noisy, but you’ll be given earplugs or headphones. You'll be able to hear, and speak to, the person operating the scanner.

ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography)
This procedure may be used to take an x-ray picture of the pancreatic and bile ducts. It may also be used to unblock the bile duct, if necessary. Your stomach and the first part of your small bowel (duodenum) need to be empty for this test. So you'll be asked not to eat or drink anything for about six hours beforehand.
You’re given an injection to relax you (a sedative) and a local anesthetic spray to numb your throat. The doctor passes a thin, flexible tube called an endoscope into your mouth, down to your stomach and into the duodenum.
The doctor looks down the endoscope to find the opening where the bile duct and pancreatic duct drain into the duodenum. They may then inject a dye, which shows up on an x-ray, into these ducts. This helps to show if there is any abnormality or blockage in the ducts.
If there is a blockage, the doctor may insert a small tube known as a stent (see below). You will be given antibiotics beforehand to help prevent any infection and you will probably stay in hospital overnight.

Endoscopic ultrasound scan (EUS)
This scan is similar to an ERCP but involves an ultrasound probe being passed down the endoscope to take an ultrasound scan of the bile ducts and surrounding structures.

PTC (percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography)
This procedure may be used to take an x-ray picture of the bile duct. It may also be used to get a sample of tissue (biopsy) from the tumor. You will be asked not to eat or drink anything for about six hours before the test and will be given a sedative just like with an ERCP.
The doctor will numb an area on the right side of your tummy (abdomen) with a local anesthetic injection. They will then pass a thin needle through the skin into your liver and inject a dye into the bile duct within the liver. You will have x-rays to see if there is any abnormality or blockage of the duct.
You may feel some discomfort as the needle enters the liver. You will be given antibiotics before and after the procedure to help prevent infection, and you will stay in the hospital for at least one night afterward.


This is a test to look at blood vessels. The bile duct is very close to large blood vessels, which carry blood to and from the liver. An angiogram may be used to check whether any of them are affected by cancer.
Angiograms are carried out in the x-ray department. A fine tube is put into a blood vessel (artery) in your groin. A dye is then injected up the tube. The dye circulates in the arteries so that they show up on an x-ray.

The results of the previous tests may make your doctor strongly suspect that you have cancer of the bile duct, but the only way to be sure is by having a biopsy. Some cells or tissue samples are taken from the affected area of the bile duct. The biopsy sample is then looked at under a microscope. A biopsy may be carried out during an ERCP or PTC.
CT or ultrasound may be used at the same time to make sure the biopsy is taken from the right place.

An operation called a laparotomy is sometimes used to help diagnose bile duct cancer. The operation is carried out under a general anesthetic so you aren't awake.
The surgeon makes a cut (incision) in your abdomen to examine the bile duct and the tissue around it for cancer. A tube with a tiny camera attached called a laparoscope helps the surgeon see inside the abdomen.
If cancer is found but looks as though it has not spread to surrounding tissues, the surgeon may be able to remove cancer or relieve any blockage that it’s causing.

Dr. Rakesh Rai. MS, FRCS (Edin), FRCS (Intercollegiate), MD (Newcastle), CCST (UK), ASTS Fellow (USA).

Senior Consultant HPB & Transplant Surgery

PD Hinduja Hospital & Research Center, Mumbai.