At Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center, our team of experts treats liver and bile duct cancer using some of the latest research, advanced technologies and supportive integrative care. Using a comprehensive team approach, Banner MD Anderson customizes your care to your unique needs. Our highly skilled physicians, nurses and staff provide excellent, compassionate medical care and educational resources and support before, during and after your treatment.
Liver and bile duct cancers are types of cancer that either start in the liver or bile duct or start in another part of the body and spread to the liver or bile duct. A cancer that starts in one of these two organs is called primary liver or bile duct cancer. Metastatic liver and bile duct cancers begin somewhere else in the body, such as the colon, breast, lung, stomach or pancreas, and spread (metastasize) to the liver or bile duct.
The liver is the largest organ in the body, and its health is critical; life cannot be sustained without a functioning liver. Liver cancer destroys liver cells, making it impossible for the liver to work properly.
Located right below the ribs, the liver has many important functions:
Bile ducts are narrow tubes that carry bile, a fluid produced in the liver and stored in the pancreas that helps the body break down fats and absorb certain vitamins and minerals during digestion, to the liver.
Men are more than twice as likely as women to develop liver cancer over their lifetimes. Bile duct cancer most commonly occurs in adults over the age of 50.
Specialized physicians who treat liver and bile duct cancers include hepatologists, who focus on diseases of the liver, and oncologists, who are doctors dedicated to treating cancer patients. At Banner MD Anderson, your care team includes some of the nation’s leading liver and bile duct cancer experts, including experienced surgeons highly skilled in delicate liver surgery procedures.
In addition, liver and bile duct cancer treatment at Banner MD Anderson includes our Integrative Oncology Program. Patients receive compassionate care helping with all aspects of their cancer care to improve quality of life.
Liver cancer and bile duct cancers occur when changes (mutations) develop in the DNA of liver or bile duct cells. DNA provides instructions for each chemical process in your body, so DNA mutations change the instructions. Cells can begin to grow out of control, resulting in a tumor (a mass of cancerous cells).
While the exact cause of liver and bile duct cancers are unknown, there are environmental, dietary and lifestyle factors linked to an increased chance of developing these diseases.
Liver cancer often doesn’t present symptoms in its early stages. In more advanced stages, liver cancer can be more difficult to treat. Signs of liver cancer may include jaundice, weight loss and pain/swelling in your stomach and legs. The most common type of liver cancer is primary liver cancer.
The earliest signs of bile duct cancer are tied to abnormal liver function because bile duct tumors may prevent bile from flowing successfully from the liver or gallbladder. These include jaundice, decreased appetite, unexplained weight loss and changes in urine and stool color.
There are different types of bile duct cancer (also called cholangiocarcinoma) based on where the cancer develops within the bile duct:
Like liver cancer, bile duct cancer is rarely detected in its early stages because the location of the bile ducts within the body make it unlikely for a bile duct tumor to be found during a routine exam.
Liver and bile duct cancers are diagnosed using various tests and procedures. A special blood test to measure levels of alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) may be used to diagnose liver cancer as well as other blood tests to measure liver function. Blood tests are also used to diagnose bile duct cancer by identifying tumor markers within the blood. Imaging tests such as ultrasound, CT and MRI are also used to diagnose liver and bile duct cancers. Removing a sample of tissue for testing may be required to make a definitive diagnosis of liver or bile duct cancer.
The most common treatment for liver cancer is surgery to remove part or all of the affected liver tissue, as well as areas to which the cancer has spread. Other treatments include tumor ablation, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or targeted therapy and immunotherapy. Patients may require a liver transplant.
Bile duct cancer may be treated with surgery depending on tumor size and location. Radiation therapy and gastrointestinal (GI) procedures, including stent placement and balloon dilation, may also be used in bile duct cancer treatment.