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Cancers of the bile ducts are relatively uncommon in the United States. About 10,000 cases are diagnosed each year, mostly in people over the age of 70. Since most bile duct cancers are diagnosed in more advanced stages, the current five-year survival rate is only 10% to 30%, depending upon the type of cancer.
Bile duct cancer can be divided into two main categories: Intrahepatic and extrahepatic.
Intrahepatic bile duct cancer
This cancer occurs in the bile ducts that are within the liver. It is often misdiagnosed as liver cancer. Although uncommon, the incidence of intrahepatic bile duct cancer is increasing.
Extrahepatic bile duct cancers
These diseases occur in bile ducts outside the liver. There are three types of extrahepatic bile duct cancers:
- Perihilar bile duct cancer: Perihilar bile duct cancer is the most common type of extrahepatic bile duct cancer. It occurs at the junction where the bile ducts exit the liver. These tumors account for 40 to 60% of all bile duct cancer cases. Twenty to 30% originate in the lower bile duct, and about 10% arise in bile ducts within the liver. This disease is sometimes called hilar cancer or Klatskin tumors.
- Distal bile duct cancer: This disease arises near the small intestine, at the farthest reach of the bile ducts.
- Gallbladder cancer: A cancer that arises in the wall of the gallbladder.
Bile Duct Cancer Risk Factors
There are several medical conditions that increase the risk for bile duct cancer, which is typically found in the older population.
Risk factors include:
- Diseases of the liver, including cirrhosis, bile duct stones and cholangitis
- Age: Most cases in the United States are diagnosed in men and women over the age of 70
- Hepatitis B or hepatitis C infection
- Inflammatory bowel diseases, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
- Ethnicity: Bile duct cancer is much more common in Asian countries, where a liver parasite is common. In the U.S., Native Americans and Hispanics are more likely to get bile duct cancers.
Excessive consumption of alcohol increases the risk of bile duct cancer, especially among people who have alcohol-associated liver damage.
Learn more about bile duct cancer:
Why choose MD Anderson for bile duct cancer treatment?
At MD Anderson's Gastrointestinal Center, we customize your care for bile cancer. This means we treat you as an individual, not a statistic. Your treatment plan is personalized to include the most advanced therapies, while focusing on your quality of life.
Cancer of the biliary tract (cholangiocarcinoma and gallbladder cancer) can be aggressive and its management requires world-class multi-disciplinary expertise.
MD Anderson is working to improve survival rates for bile duct cancer by providing a range of innovative treatments, including targeted therapies, surgical techniques and high-dose radiation therapy.
Bile duct cancer survivors often have to deal with side effects. Our expert health care team provides supportive care and management of bile duct obstruction, malnutrition and digestive issues.