Bile duct cancer, also known as cholangiocarcinoma, begins in the cells that line the inside of the bile ducts.
Bile ducts are thin tubes connecting your liver to your small intestine. They transport bile, which is produced by the liver, to help digest the fat we consume.
The bile duct system has several distinct parts. First, there are the intrahepatic bile ducts, found within the liver. This consists of small ductules, which merge into ducts, and then separate to become the left and right hepatic ducts.
The left and right hepatic ducts exit the liver, merging to form the common hepatic duct. The cystic (gallbladder) duct joins the common hepatic duct to form the common bile duct, which passes through the pancreas and joins with the pancreatic duct before emptying into the first part of the small intestine (duodenum).
In most countries, bile duct cancer is considered a rare type of cancer.
There are several types of cholangiocarcinoma, based on where the cancer begins:
These cancers begin in the small bile ducts inside the liver.
These cancers start at the hilum, where the left and right hepatic ducts merge and exit the liver.
These cancers occur further down the bile duct, closer to the small intestine.
Symptoms of bile duct cancer include:
It is unclear what causes bile duct cancer, but long-term (chronic) inflammation may contribute to its development, as inflammation can damage cells and lead to changes in its DNA, altering the way cells grow.
These conditions are believed to be risk factors for bile duct cancer:
Other factors which may play a role include:
In some patients, the resulting tumour from bile duct cancer can obstruct the bile duct and cause infection of the bile drainage system (cholangitis).
Bile duct cancer may also lead to cirrhosis, causing scarring and destruction of liver cells, especially among patients with primary sclerosing cholangitis.
There is no specific way to prevent bile duct cancer but you can take steps to reduce your risk by preventing liver inflammation and cirrhosis by:
If you have been diagnosed with bile duct cancer, you may also want to watch your diet to help manage your condition.