About the Biliary Tract
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.
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.
Examples of biliary tract cancer:
- 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.
Common symptoms of biliary tract cancer include:
- Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
- Intensely itchy skin
- Clay-colored stools
- Abdominal pain
- Unintended weight loss
Risk Factors for Biliary Tract Cancer
Women are more likely to be diagnosed with biliary tract cancer than men.
Other risk factors for biliary tract cancer include:
- Older age, usually over the age of 50, though it can occur at any age
- History of gall stones
- Parasitic infection of the bile ducts
- Inflammation of the bile ducts, such as sclerosing cholangitis
Treating Liver 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 fellowship-trained cancer surgeons and gastrointestinal cancer specialists that are nationally recognized leaders at the forefront of their fields as well as medical oncologists, radiation experts, physical therapists, social workers, dietitians, and more, who work together to help you get back to the things in your life that matter most to you. We also collaborate with our colleagues at The University of Texas at Austin, the Dell Medical School, and the Livestrong Cancer Institutes to utilize the latest research and treatment techniques, allowing us to identify 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.