About Biliary Tract Cancer
The biliary tract is made up of a series of thin tubes (bile ducts) that span from the liver to the small intestine. These ducts transport bile to the small intestine where it helps digest the fats in food. The gallbladder, functioning as a reservoir for bile, is connected to the biliary tract. Biliary tract cancer can form anywhere along the biliary tract. Approximately 8,000 patients per year are diagnosed with biliary tract cancer in the United States.
Types of Biliary Tract Cancer
Biliary tract cancer can be categorized into four groups based on where the cancer is located in the biliary tract.
Types of biliary tract cancer include:
- Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma is located in the bile ducts inside the liver.
- Perihilar (also called hilar) cholangiocarcinoma is located where the left and right hepatic ducts have joined and are just leaving the liver (also known as the hilum of the liver). These are called extrahepatic bile duct cancers since they start outside the liver.
- Distal cholangiocarcinoma is located further down the bile duct, closer to the small intestine. These are also extrahepatic bile duct cancers.
- Gallbladder cancer is located in the wall of the gallbladder and grows into the liver.
Symptoms of Biliary Tract Cancer
Biliary tract cancer in any of the four locations described above can cause different symptoms.
Symptoms of biliary tract cancer may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Clay-colored stools
- Intensely itchy skin
- Unintended weight loss
- Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
Risk Factors for Biliary Tract Cancer
Certain people are more likely to develop biliary tract cancer.
Risk factors for biliary tract cancer may include:
- Age: Though biliary tract cancer can develop at any age, it is most common in people over the age of 50.
- Health history: Biliary tract cancer is associated with a history of gall stones, parasitic infection of the bile ducts, and inflammation of the bile ducts, such as sclerosing cholangitis.
- Personal history: Obesity and smoking are associated with biliary tract cancer risk.
- Sex: Women are more likely to be diagnosed with biliary tract cancer than men.
Treating Biliary Tract Cancer at UT Health Austin
Treatment requires accurate diagnosis and a care plan tailored to the specific type of tumor, the tumor’s location, and the overall needs of the patient. The different behavior of different tumor types helps drive decisions about treatment, which may include combinations of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Our surgical team has the skill and experience to address these complex tumors appropriately with a variety of approaches, including both open and minimally invasive (laparoscopic or robotic) operations.
Care Team Approach
At UT Health Austin, we take a multidisciplinary approach to your care. This means you will benefit from the expertise of multiple specialists across a variety of disciplines. Your care team will include medical oncologists, surgical oncologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, oncofertility specialists, onco-psychiatrists, genetic counselors, physical therapists, dietitians, social workers, and more as well as other members of the CaLM Care Team who work together to help you get back to the things in your life that matter most to you.
We collaborate with our colleagues at the Dell Medical School and The University of Texas at Austin to utilize the latest research, diagnostic, and treatment techniques, allowing us to identify and utilize new therapies to improve cancer treatment outcomes. We are committed to communicating and coordinating your care with your other healthcare providers to ensure that we are providing you with comprehensive, whole-person care.