Saanichton, BC

Dr. Miguel A. Lipka

Extrahepatic Bile Duct Cancer

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Extrahepatic bile duct cancer is a rare disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the part of bile duct that is outside the liver.

A network of bile ducts (tubes) connects the liver and the gallbladder to the small intestine. This network begins in the liver where many small ducts collect bile, a fluid made by the liver to break down fats during digestion. The small ducts come together to form the right and left hepatic bile ducts, which lead out of the liver. The two ducts join outside the liver to become the common hepatic duct. The part of the common hepatic duct that is outside the liver is called the extrahepatic bile duct. The extrahepatic bile duct is joined by a duct from the gallbladder (which stores bile) to form the common bile duct. Bile is released from the gallbladder through the common bile duct into the small intestine when food is being digested.

Having colitis or certain liver diseases can increase the risk of developing extrahepatic bile duct cancer.

Possible signs of extrahepatic bile duct cancer include:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes).
  • Pain in the abdomen.
  • Fever.
  • Itchy skin.

The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on the following:

  • The stage of the cancer (whether it affects only the bile duct or has spread to other places in the body).
  • Whether the tumor can be completely removed by surgery.
  • Whether the tumor is in the upper or lower part of the duct.
  • Whether the cancer has just been diagnosed or has recurred (come back).

Treatment options may also depend on the symptoms caused by the tumor. Extrahepatic bile duct cancer is usually found after it has spread and can rarely be removed completely by surgery. Palliative therapy may relieve symptoms and improve the patient's quality of life.

Extrahepatic bile duct cancer can also be grouped according to how the cancer may be treated. There are two treatment groups:

  • Localized (and resectable) - The cancer is in an area where it can be removed completely by surgery.
  • Unresectable - The cancer cannot be removed completely by surgery. The cancer may have spread to nearby blood vessels, the liver, the common bile duct, nearby lymph nodes, or other parts of the abdominal cavity.

The following types of surgery are used to treat extrahepatic bile duct cancer:

  • Removal of the bile duct: If the tumor is small and only in the bile duct, the entire bile duct may be removed. A new duct is made by connecting the duct openings in the liver to the intestine. Lymph nodes are removed and viewed under a microscope to see if they contain cancer.

  • Partial hepatectomy: Removal of the part of the liver where cancer is found. The part removed may be a wedge of tissue, an entire lobe, or a larger part of the liver, along with some normal tissue around it.

  • Whipple procedure: A surgical procedure in which the head of the pancreas, the gallbladder, part of the stomach, part of the small intestine, and the bile duct are removed. Enough of the pancreas is left to make digestive juices and insulin.

  • Surgical biliary bypass: If the tumor cannot be removed but is blocking the small intestine and causing bile to build up in the gallbladder, a biliary bypass may be done. During this operation, the gallbladder or bile duct will be cut and sewn to the small intestine to create a new pathway around the blocked area. This procedure helps to relieve jaundice caused by the build-up of bile.

  • Stent placement: If the tumor is blocking the bile duct, a stent (a thin tube) may be placed in the duct to drain bile that has built up in the area. The stent may drain to the outside of the body or it may go around the blocked area and drain the bile into the small intestine. The doctor may place the stent during surgery or PTC, or with an endoscope.

Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.