While bile duct cancer is rare, unfortunately, it’s aggressive—which makes it vital to treat as soon as possible after diagnosis. Here are some pertinent facts about bile duct cancer, as well as the associated risk factors, symptoms and prevention methods.
What is Bile Duct Cancer
To understand what bile duct cancer is, it’s important to know the functionality of the bile duct. In short, bile ducts are small tubes that move bile from the gallbladder to the small intestine.
Scientifically classified as cholangiocarcinoma, there are three categories of bile duct carcinomas:
- Intrahepatic - beginning in the liver
- Perihilar - starting in the hilum, just outside the liver
- Distal - below the gallbladder
Researchers cannot positively identify one specific reason for the onset of bile duct cancer. However, certain risk factors could increase the likelihood of a person developing the disease.
- Family history (the illness is typically diagnosed in individuals age 65 and older)
- Being overweight/obese
- Lifestyle choices (individuals who drink excessive quantities of alcohol and smoke cigarettes)
- Exposure to toxins (routine exposure to certain environmental toxins)
Additional risk factors may include diseases of the liver or bile ducts such as:
- Bile duct stones—similar to gallstones, but smaller
- PSC (Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis)—inflammation of the bile ducts that form scar tissue
- Cirrhosis—liver damage caused by scar tissue
- Hepatitis B virus
- Hepatitis C virus
Unfortunately, any visible indication of bile duct cancer in its earliest stages is rare. However, as the cancer progresses, the flow of bile may become obstructed. The first sign may be the onset of jaundice or yellowing of the skin and eyes. Other signs of bile duct cancer may include the following:
- Weight loss
- Discoloration in stool and urine
- Abdominal pain—typically experienced in the later stages of bile duct cancer
- Diminished appetite
- Itching skin—caused by the buildup of bile salts and bilirubin
If you experience any of the above symptoms, it’s important to speak with your doctor as soon as possible to determine if the symptoms you are experiencing is a sign of bile duct cancer or another illness.
Though it might be impossible to prevent the occurrence of bile duct cancer completely, there are some things you can do to reduce your risk.
- Limiting alcohol consumption.
- Quit smoking.
- Get vaccinated against liver ailments like hepatitis (Speak with your doctor if vaccination is the right preventative method for you.)
- Limit exposure to environmental toxins
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle by:
- Limiting processed foods
- Adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet
- Participating in stress-relieving activities
One of the best methods of prevention is to participate in regular checkups and communicate with your doctor if you are feeling symptoms that are out of the ordinary. Older persons, as well as those possessing any of the preceding risk factors, should receive a thorough medical evaluation.
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