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    Bile duct cancer: Know all about diagnosis and treatment options

    By Emily Hagan | Published on Oct 18, 2023

    Bile duct cancer, also known as cholangiocarcinoma, is a relentless disease that manifests in the bile ducts, responsible for transporting bile fluid between organs to aid digestion. As one of the most prevalent advanced cancer types, understanding its diagnosis and treatment options is crucial.

    Diagnosis for Bile Duct Cancer

    Early detection plays a pivotal role in combating bile duct cancer. Thankfully, several endoscopic procedures can aid in diagnosing the disease at an early stage.

    Gastrointestinal Endoscopy

    During a gastrointestinal endoscopic procedure, a topical anaesthetic, along with painkillers and sedatives if necessary, is used. The physician inserts an endoscope through the mouth and into the oesophagus. Images captured by a camera on the endoscope are displayed on a monitor, aiding in the diagnosis.

    Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)

    ERCP involves the use of an endoscope with side viewing. The physician injects a contrast medium into the bile ducts, which reveals any abnormalities in X-ray images. Additionally, the physician can perform a biopsy and remove bile duct tissue for further testing.


    Cholangioscopy entails the use of a specialized endoscope known as a cholangioscope, which is inserted into the bile duct. This allows the physician to directly view and sample the tumor. Cholangioscopy can be performed in conjunction with an ERCP.

    Endoscopic Ultrasound (EUS)

    EUS combines an endoscope with an ultrasound to obtain gastrointestinal tract images. It is similar to an upper endoscopy and can be used to detect bile duct cancer.

    Treatment for Bile Duct Cancer

    Efficient treatment options for bile duct cancer depend on the tumor’s type, size, and location. Here are some commonly used treatment methods:

    1. Surgical Treatment

    Surgical intervention is determined by the resectability of the tumor. Some cancers may be entirely removed through surgery, while others may be incurable. If the tumor is surgically treatable, it can greatly improve the patient’s prognosis.

    2. Radiation Therapy

    Radiation therapy employs advanced delivery systems to target hard-to-reach bile duct tumors with intense radiation doses. By carefully minimizing exposure to healthy tissue, doctors can effectively treat the cancer. The specific radiation therapy technique utilized depends on the patient’s condition and tumor location.

    3. Interventional Radiology

    Interventional radiology is a minimally invasive medical specialty that helps diagnose and treat cancer. It can be used to treat bile duct cancer by accessing the bile duct through a small incision. X-rays assist in locating the bile ducts, and stents can be inserted or biopsies performed if necessary. This outpatient treatment requires anesthesia.

    4. Palliative Care through Stenting

    Palliative care aims to alleviate symptoms and complications caused by bile duct cancer, enhancing the patient’s quality of life. This type of care is implemented alongside any other cancer treatment and is particularly useful for managing pain, preventing nausea, and maintaining bile flow through the placement of stents.

    5. Liver Transplant

    Liver transplant is a potential treatment option for some unresectable intrahepatic or perihilar bile duct tumors, but it is usually a last resort. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be attempted prior to a liver transplant. While finding a suitable liver donor can be challenging, a transplant offers the possibility of a cure.

    In advanced cases, where bile duct cancer is diagnosed in the later stages, curative treatment may not be possible. Although this can be distressing news, it is important to discuss advanced cancer openly and seek prompt treatment through early diagnosis.

    Fortunately, with modern innovations and technologies, bile duct cancer can now be detected early, preventing its relentless spread. Remember, early diagnosis is the key to effective treatment. Stay informed and take charge of your health.

    To learn more about cancer-related topics, click here!

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