Bile Duct Cancer

At the Henry Ford Liver Disease Center, our highly skilled team of liver and bile duct cancer experts treats hundreds of patients every year. As a one of the most sought after referral centers in the region, our goal is to deliver the most comprehensive, personalized care possible.

What is bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma)?

Bile duct cancer is cancer that originates in the bile ducts. The bile ducts are tubes that transport bile from the liver and gallbladder (which stores bile) to the small intestine. Bile is fluid that helps digest the fats in food and clears toxic substances from your body.

Risk factors for bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma)

Scientists believe a link exists between the development of bile duct cancer and things that cause inflammation in the bile ducts. Risk factors for developing bile duct cancer include:

  • Age: Two in three patients diagnosed with bile duct cancer are over age 65.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease: Includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
  • Chronic conditions affecting the bile ducts: Includes primary sclerosing cholangitis and bile duct stones
  • Obesity
  • Exposure to Thorotrast: Before 1950, Thorotrast (thorium dioxide) was used as a contrast agent for X rays.
  • Chronic hepatitis B or hepatitis C
  • A history of alcohol abuse

Symptoms of bile duct cancer

Because tumors within the bile duct prevent bile and bilirubin (yellow coloring created when red blood cells break down) from freely flowing from the liver to the intestine, the earliest signs of bile duct cancer involve abnormal liver function and may include:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Itchiness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal mass
  • Dark urine
  • Pale-colored stools

How is bile duct cancer diagnosed?

At the Henry Ford Liver Disease Center, our liver specialists have teamed up with expert cancer specialists from the Henry Ford Cancer Institute, one of the most active cancer centers in Michigan.

We provide expert second opinions for even the most complex bile duct tumors. Our state-of-the-art diagnostic tools include:

  • Blood tests
  • Sophisticated imaging scans: To take detailed pictures of your entire gastrointestinal system
  • Minimally invasive, endoscopic procedures: These are advanced procedures using an endoscope (a thin, flexible lighted microscope) and an advanced fiber optic camera to look down your throat and examine your bile ducts and surrounding organs. Learn more about endoscopy at Henry Ford.
  • Biopsy: Your physician removes a small piece of the growth or tumor for analysis

Learn more about liver disease diagnosis at Henry Ford.

Bile duct cancer treatments at Henry Ford Hospital

In our gastrointestinal tumor board, experts from all the specialties involved in your care meet weekly to design the best treatment plan for you. Our treatments include:

  • Medications and chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy, including brachytherapy: In brachytherapy, your physician inserts or implants radioactive sources for internal radiation delivery.
  • Minimally-invasive liver surgery
  • Embolization therapy: Minimally invasive procedure that destroys tumors by blocking blood flow to cancer cells
  • Ablation therapy: Minimally invasive procedure using extreme heat or cold to destroy tumors. Our surgeons pioneered radiofrequency ablation for the treatment of liver tumors.
  • Endoscopy: Our robust cancer team features several endoscopists who focus 100 percent of their expertise and superior skills on treating bile duct cancer and its related complications.
  • Liver transplant: We are just one of a few centers using liver transplants to treat bile duct cancer. Because cholangiocarcinomas have a high potential of returning after transplant, we have a special protocol that includes treating you with radiation and chemotherapy prior to the transplant to reduce the rate of recurrence.

Learn more about our treatments at Henry Ford.

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Call us at (888) 777-4167

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