The bile ducts are thin tubes that transport fluid called bile from the liver to the gallbladder to the small intestine to help digest fats. Bile duct cancer is a rare type of tumor that develops anywhere in the bile ducts. More common in people older than 60 with a history of medical conditions including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), bile duct cancer can cause yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), itchy skin and light-colored stools.
Most bile duct cancers fit into a category of cancers called adenocarcinomas. Bile duct adenocarcinoma forms in mucous glands lining the bile ducts. Bile duct cancer is also referred to as biliary adenocarcinoma or cholangiocarcinoma. Bile duct cancers are classified according to their location:
Surgeons at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) specialize in hepatobiliary diseases, including bile duct cancer. As the surgical team for the Pancreas and Biliary Tumor Center at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center (DF/BWCC), we offer world-class patient care with leading-edge research in the fight against pancreatic cancer and bile duct cancer. Our board certified surgeons pioneered the use of laparoscopic techniques in treating hepatobiliary cancers and today use robotics and other minimally invasive surgery technologies for liver resection and Whipple procedure operations.
Factors that contribute to an increased risk for bile duct cancer include:
Bile duct cancer may cause the following symptoms:
If you are having symptoms of bile duct cancer, your surgeon will ask about your health history, your family’s history of cancer and risk factors. Diagnostic tests may include:
The process used to find out if cancer has spread within the bile ducts or to other parts of the body is called staging. The stage is determined from the results of physical exams, imaging tests and biopsies. The TNM system, developed by the American Joint Committee on Cancer and the International Union Against Cancer, is a standard system used to stage bile duct cancer. TNM represents:
Treatment for bile duct cancer involves different surgical approaches, depending on the location of the tumor. Our surgeons are internationally recognized specialists who are faculty members at Harvard Medical School and have years of experience in bile duct cancer surgery. They have perfected many of the most progressive surgical procedures including:
You will receive a thorough diagnostic examination to evaluate if you have bile duct cancer and determine what course of treatment is needed. Careful monitoring and the involvement of an experienced surgeon are important to the successful outcome for patients with bile duct cancer.
If you are having surgery or a procedure, you will likely be scheduled for a visit to the Weiner Center for Preoperative Evaluation for pre-operative information and tests.
The day of surgery, you will be cared for in the operating room by surgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses who specialize in surgery for patients with bile duct cancer. After surgery, you recover in the post-surgical care unit where you will receive comprehensive care by an experienced surgical and nursing staff.
The Pancreas and Biliary Tumor Center at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center provides advanced multidisciplinary care for patients with gastrointestinal diseases, such as bile duct cancer. Our treatment team includes surgeons, medical and radiation oncologists, radiologists, pathologists, endoscopists, anesthesiologists and gastroenterologists. In addition, patients have full access to BWH’s world-renowned academic medical community with its diverse specialists and state-of-the-art facilities.
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