Bile duct cancers can occur in a range of locations both in and around the liver. While bile duct cancers, also known as cholangiocarcinomas, are rare, they are difficult to treat. This is because the only way to property treat bile duct cancers is to completely remove the cancer in question by surgical means, something which often is not able to be undertaken due to the spread of the cancer. If surgery to remove the cancer is unsuccessful, doctors tend to focus on palliative cancer care in order to give the patient a good quality of life and to prevent further cancerous growths. Some aspects of palliative care for bile duct cancers focus on relieving issues related to the accumulation of bile, which is a common problem in bile duct cancer patients.
Bile duct cancer typically begins in the bile ducts, but then often spreads into the liver. The cancer does this by spreading along the bile duct surface, and also by spreading through the lymph nodes in the liver region. Some cancerous tumours spread into the gall bladder, and some cancers may also spread into a host of other nearby organs in the abdomen. Currently the exact causes of bile duct cancer are unknown, although those with deformities of the bile ducts are much more likely to experience bile duct cancer. Those with some bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis, may also be more likely to experience bile duct cancer. Lifestyle-related factors for bile duct cancers are currently unknown.
Like many types of cancer, the symptoms for bile duct cancers are not unique to bile duct cancer. They tend to be non-specific, meaning that they overlap with the symptoms of other illnesses or disorders. Usually the symptoms of bile duct cancer develop over time, and so so quite slowly. Some symptoms include jaundice and general itchiness. Jaundice is caused by the gradual build-up of bile components in the skin and hints at poor liver function.
While a staged cancer treating system is used for treating bile duct cancers, in reality two particular stages of bile duct cancer treatment are used. The first is a localised treatment, involving surgery, and the second is the palliative care option noted earlier. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may offer some symptomatic relief, but are typically not effective in curing bile duct cancer. Still, they can help maintain a patient’s quality of life, as can other holistic approaches and alternative therapies.