Prognosis or outlook of bile duct cancer may depend on factors like the age and health of the patient, the stage at which the cancer is diagnosed, and the patient’s response towards the treatment. In this article, we will look into prognosis, symptoms and treatment of cancer of the bile duct.
Did You Know?
According to the American Cancer Society, around 2,000 to 3,000 people are being diagnosed with bile duct cancer every year.
Cancer of the bile duct is medically referred to as cholangiocarcinoma. Statistics reveal that it usually affects people above the age of 65 years. Though the exact causes of this type of cancer are unknown, people suffering from primary sclerosing cholangitis, bile duct cysts, liver cirrhosis, ulcerative colitis, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, alcoholic liver disease and certain congenital liver abnormalities are at a greater risk of developing this form of cancer. The survival rate or outlook depends on the location of the tumor, and the stage in which the cancer is detected. Prognosis would be better if the cancer can be removed completely by way of surgery.
An Overview of Bile Duct Cancer
The bile duct is a narrow tube which connects the liver and the duodenum. The bile ducts that are present within the liver are called the intrahepatic bile ducts, while the ones connecting the liver and gallbladder with the small intestine are the extrahepatic bile ducts. Bile, which is a digestive enzyme that is secreted by the liver, flows through the bile duct into the small intestine, where it helps in the digestion of lipids. Excess bile is stored in the gallbladder, till further use.
Cancer in the bile duct is characterized by development of a tumor due to uncontrolled and abnormal division of cells. Cancerous growth may destroy intrahepatic, perihilar (or hilar) or distal (or extrahepatic) part of the bile duct. It can adversely affect the liver function. Though the exact reason behind the occurrence of bile duct carcinoma is unknown, it is believed that infection caused by a parasite called liver fluke, abnormalities in the bile duct, and the presence of cysts can trigger the abnormal growth of cancerous cells. The growth of cysts can also result in obstruction in the bile duct, which can be quite painful.
The initial signs of cancer in the biliary tree can be experienced as pain, which may radiate to other parts of the body. There is also yellow discoloration in some parts of the body, similar to that of jaundice. A few other indications are unexplained weight loss, loss of appetite, persistent fatigue, dark-colored urine, clay-colored stools, chills, fever, etc.
Treatment and Prognosis
Early diagnosis and prompt treatment can improve the outcome of this disease. Diagnosis may involve physical exam, CT and MRI scans and an ultrasound. Sometimes a biopsy of the tissue may also be required to test if the cancer is malignant or benign. Once the diagnostic tests are performed and the condition is assessed, the doctor may start the treatment. There are two types of treatment involved in treating this cancer. One is surgery, also known as Whipple procedure, where the affected part of the liver with the bile duct is removed. Another method is the radiation therapy and chemotherapy to destroy the cancerous cells and curb their growth. In rare cases, the patient may have to undergo a surgery for liver transplant, in case the condition is irreversible.
If detected in the initial stages, the prognosis can be good. Prognosis can be determined by taking into account factors like the age of the patient, overall health, the stage at which the cancer was diagnosed and the patient’s response to the treatment. According to American Cancer Society, 15% of patients will live for at least 5 years after they have been diagnosed with localized intrahepatic bile duct cancer, while 30% of patients will live for at least 5 years after they have been diagnosed with extrahepatic duct cancer. However, life expectancy increases if the cancer is completely removed, and many people may live much longer than 5 years. The prognosis is poor if cancer is detected in later stages when the complete removal of malignant growth through surgery is usually not possible. However, prognosis can be good if an aggressive treatment approach involving surgery and therapy is followed.
In case biliary tract carcinoma is not diagnosed and treated, it can result in liver failure, which can prove fatal. If a person is experiencing any of the aforementioned symptoms, he/she must seek medical help. Routine checkups with a health care provider will help in detecting any such health condition, thereby reducing risks associated with delayed treatment.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.