Cancer Care

Gallbladder Cancer | Bile Duct Cancer

MaineHealth provides services for the diagnosis and treatment of bile duct and gallbladder cancer. Bile duct cancer occurs in 3,000 people and gallbladder cancer in about 5,000 people in the United States every year. Given the rarity of these tumors and the need for complex treatments patient should be evaluated by experienced multidisciplinary teams such as those MaineHealth and Maine Medical Center.

What are bile duct and gallbladder cancer?

Bile duct cancer is rare cancer that arises from the cells in the ducts connecting the liver to the gallbladder and small intestine. Gallbladder cancer arises from abnormal cells within the gallbladder. Cancers of the bile duct and gallbladder are most often adenocarcinoma.

Risk factors for bile duct cancer include primary sclerosing cholangitis (autoimmune inflammation of the bile ducts), ulcerative colitis, cysts in the bile duct, and Chinese liver flukes.

Risks for gallbladder cancer include gallstones, gallbladder polyps, older age, female gender, some ethnic groups (Mexican Americans and Native Americans), smoking, and a family history of gallbladder cancer.

Signs of bile duct cancer include jaundice (yellowing of the skin), darkening of the urine, light-colored stools, weight loss, and abdominal pain. The diagnosis of gallbladder cancer is significantly more difficult. Early cancers of the gallbladder may be asymptomatic with subtle symptoms that worsen over time. These symptoms may include jaundice, right upper abdomen pain, and unexplained weight loss.

Multiple diagnostic tests available at Maine Medical Center and MaineHealth can be helpful in the diagnosis and treatment of these cancers. Initial testing often involves CT, MRI, and ultrasound scans. Advanced endoscopic treatments include ERCP and endoscopic ultrasound. During an ERCP the endoscopist passes a lighted scope through the first part of your small intestine into the bile and pancreatic ducts. During an endoscopic ultrasound, the endoscopist passes a similar lighted scope with an ultrasound probe at the tip.

 Because of the location near the liver and major blood vessels, the treatment of bile duct and gallbladder cancer can be difficult. To ensure the optimal treatment of patients with complex pancreas, bile duct, and liver cancer Maine Medical Center has assembled a multidisciplinary team including surgeons, gastroenterologists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists, and interventional radiologists to treat these complex cancers.

Treatment often involves multiple different approaches including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. The only potentially curative approach is surgical removal of the entire tumor. The addition of chemotherapy and radiation can increase the likelihood of cure. For patients were not candidates for curative surgery life can be extended and symptoms improved by treating with chemotherapy, targeted agents, and radiation.

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