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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.
"Are you nervous?" my daughter asked as I was getting ready
for my first proton radiation treatment at MD Anderson.
"No, I'm excited," I responded. "This just feels right."
At the age of 54, and after years of going to the gym faithfully to work out three to five times a week, eating blueberries and yogurt almost every morning, working at a job I love and spending my spare time doing just about anything I could do outside -- yard work, hiking, snow skiing, even surfing and rock climbing -- I was diagnosed with cancer. Cholangiocarcinoma -- or liver bile duct cancer, to be precise.
After my friends and family did some research, I decided to come to MD Anderson for bile duct cancer treatment. I came to MD Anderson for my initial visit but underwent chemotherapy at home in Tennessee. Then, I returned to MD Anderson for a clinical trial using proton radiation.
Coming to MD Anderson for bile duct cancer treatment
I was happy to be back at MD Anderson. On the surface, that might sound strange. Being 780 miles away from my home, family and friends. Alone in a one-bedroom apartment, in a strange city with no car and a two-mile trek to receive daily doses of an experimental radiation treatment.
But you didn't meet Alex, the driver who picked me up at the airport
and delivered me to my new home away from home. He didn't just drop me
at the entrance of the apartment complex with my bags at my feet. He
found a place to park, wandered the hallways to help me locate my
apartment, then went back and carried my bags to my door.
You didn't see the beautiful flower arrangement and basket of fruit that were sitting on the counter when I opened the door, sent by my co-workers.
You weren't here when Al, the brother of some dear friends, dropped off a bicycle to give me more mobility -- transforming a 50-minute walk to my treatments into a 25-minute bike ride, making me less reliant on the shuttle schedule.
And you haven't had your soul soothed on a daily bike ride through the nearby Hermann Park on these sunny, 70-degree days in the dead of winter.
What cancer treatment feels like to me
"Does it hurt?" my daughter asked after the treatment.
"No, not at all," I responded. "It feels like hope."
I sensed it in the demeanor of Prajnan Das, M.D., professor of Radiation Oncology, when he shook my hand and told me how glad he was that I was at MD Anderson.
I saw it in the eyes of the two women who worked so hard to get my treatment approved by the insurance companies and who greeted me with big hugs when I arrived at the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center.
I read about it in the very personal notes from patients and families that line the walls on the way to the treatment room.
And I'm filled with it while lying perfectly still on my back, engulfed by the multimillion dollar proton radiation equipment operated by a team of bright, young technicians guiding the proton beams into my abdomen while the Eagles playlist drifts through the room.
After weeks of stress and frustration from battling the insurance companies, I'm finally here getting the treatment I need. And I've got a peaceful, easy feeling.
MD Anderson patients have access to clinical trials offering
promising new treatments that cannot be
found anywhere else.
Talk to someone who shares your cancer diagnosis and be matched with a survivor.
Prevention & Screening
Many cancers can be prevented with lifestyle changes and regular screening.
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