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Bile duct cancers (also referred to as cholangiocarcinoma or biliary cancer) 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 (intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma)
Intrahepatic bile duct cancer occurs in the bile ducts that are within the liver. It accounts for about 10% of bile duct cancer cases, and it is often misdiagnosed as liver cancer. Although uncommon, the incidence of intrahepatic bile duct cancer is increasing.
Extrahepatic bile duct cancers
Extrahepatic bile duct cancers are a group of cancers that occur in bile ducts outside the liver. There are two types of extrahepatic bile duct cancers:
- Perihilar bile duct cancer (perihilar cholangiocarcinoma): Perihilar bile duct cancer is the most common type of extrahepatic bile duct cancer, accounting for 40-60% of all bile duct cancer cases. It occurs at the junction where the bile ducts exit the liver. This disease is sometimes called hilar cancer or Klatskin tumors.
- Distal bile duct cancer: This disease arises in the common bile duct, the portion of the bile ducts that passes through the pancreas and connects with the small intestine. It accounts for 20-30% of all bile duct cancer cases.
Bile Duct Cancer Risk Factors
Anything that increases your chance of getting bile duct cancer is a risk factor. There are several medical conditions that increase the risk for bile duct cancer in the older population.
Risk factors include:
- Age: Most cases of bile duct cancer in the United States are diagnosed in men and women over the age of 70
- Hepatitis B or hepatitis C infection
- Primary sclerosing cholangitis: A progressive disease that is characterized by the gradual scarring of bile ducts
- Chronic liver diseases, including cirrhosis, bile duct stones, and cholangitis
- Inflammatory bowel diseases, including Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis
- A history of bile duct cysts, which can increase the risk of bile duct inflammation and infection
- Liver fluke infection: Liver flukes are parasites associated with bile duct cancer. They are more common in South and Southeast Asia. Infection may arise due to the consumption of raw or undercooked fish.
- Ethnicity: 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.
If left untreated, bile duct cancer may lead to a variety of other health problems. Complications from bile duct cancer include:
- Obstruction to the stomach (gastric outlet obstruction)
- Slowing of the stomach (gastroparesis)
- Weight loss
- Fluid buildup in the abdomen (ascites)
- Abdominal pain
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 duct 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.
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