Cholangiocarcinoma is a cancer of the bile ducts which drain bile from the liver into the small intestine. Other biliary tract cancers include pancreatic cancer, gall bladder cancer, and cancer of the ampulla of Vater. Cholangiocarcinoma is a relatively rare adenocarcinoma but rates of cholangiocarcinoma have been rising worldwide over the past several decades.
The most common physical indications of cholangiocarcinoma are abnormal liver function tests, jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin), which occurs only, when bile ducts are blocked by the tumor, abdominal pain (30%–50%), generalized itching (66%), weight loss (30%–50%), fever (up to 20%), or changes in stool or urine color.To some extent, the symptoms depend upon the location of the tumor: Patients with cholangiocarcinoma in the extrahepatic bile ducts (outside the liver) are more likely to have jaundice, while those with tumors of the bile ducts within the liver often have pain without jaundice.
The disease is diagnosed through a combination of blood tests, imaging, endoscopy, and sometimes surgical exploration. Cholangiocarcinoma is often in an advanced stage by the time symptoms develop, which may limit treatment options. Known risk factors for cholangiocarcinoma include primary sclerosing cholangitis (an inflammatory disease of the bile ducts), congenital liver malformations, infection with the parasitic liver flukes Opisthorchis viverrini or Clonorchis sinensis, and exposure to Thorotrast (thorium dioxide), a chemical formerly used in medical imaging. However, most patients with cholangiocarcinoma have no specific risk factors.
Cholangiocarcinoma is considered to be an incurable and rapidly lethal disease unless all of its tumors can be fully resected (cut out surgically). There is no potentially curative treatment except surgery, but unfortunately most patients have advanced and inoperable disease at the time of diagnosis. Patients with cholangiocarcinoma are generally managed, though never cured, with chemotherapy or radiation therapy as well as palliative care measures, and these are also used as adjuvant therapies post-surgically in cases where resection has been successful. Some areas of ongoing medical research in cholangiocarcinoma include the use of newer targeted therapies (such as erlotinib) or photodynamic therapy for treatment, and the concentration of byproducts of cancer stromal cell formation in the blood for diagnosis.


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