Being diagnosed with bile duct cancer can feel both scary and overwhelming. At Central Maine Healthcare, we’re here to help you fight this disease by providing the expert care and compassionate support you need.
Treating Bile Duct Cancer
Bile duct cancer is usually treated with surgery, radiation or some mix of the two. Your cancer care team will develop a treatment plan based on how advanced the cancer is, whether tests indicate it can be surgically removed, how well your liver is functioning, your age and general health condition, and a host of other factors.
Surgery for Bile Duct Cancer
Because bile duct cancer is difficult to detect, it’s usually only discovered after surgery could cure the cancer. But if the results of imaging tests or earlier surgeries indicate the cancer has been caught early, a doctor may be able to remove all the cancer, plus a margin of healthy tissue around it. This is referred to as curative surgery because it usually cures the cancer.
In most other cases, the cancer is too advanced or is in a spot where surgery to completely remove the cancer would be very risky for the patient. In these situations, your doctor may consider palliative surgery, which means the procedure is done to relieve symptoms or treat complications, rather than cure the disease. Both curative and palliative surgeries are major operations that can require long recovery times, so you should be sure you’re well informed about the goals of the surgery, its risks and potential side effects.
Palliative endoscopy is often done to unblock a bile duct which can relieve any jaundice or itching that is common with bile duct cancer. While it can help the patient feel better, it is not done to eliminate or cure the cancer. In some cases, a surgeon will rely on the best information available – which may come from imaging tests and/or exploratory surgeries like laparoscopy – to plan a curative surgery but realize when the surgery begins that the cancer is too advanced or widespread to be cured. At this point, he may decide to take palliative measures.
Central Maine Medical Center patients benefit from the world-class cancer research and treatment offered by Massachusetts General Hospital thanks to our partnership with that institution. Your surgeon may consult with sub-specialists at MGH, which offers consultations, evaluations and treatment options if necessary, giving you peace of mind that you’re getting the best possible care.
Radiation for Bile Duct Cancer
Radiation therapy for bile duct cancer isn’t common and doctors disagree about how helpful it is. But your doctor may decide in your case that its benefits outweigh its costs, which can include side effects like skin redness and blistering, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fatigue.
There are two main types of radiation therapy for bile duct cancer:
External beam radiation therapy (EBRT) – uses high-energy rays aimed directly at the tumor in order to kill cancer cells. EBRT is the most commonly used radiation therapy for bile duct cancer patients
Brachytherapy – is also known as “internal radiation therapy.” A radiologist places small pellets of radioactive material next to or in to the tumor. Since the source of the radiation is so close, it affects the cancer without causing much harm to nearby healthy tissue.
RFA Endoscopic Treatment – Central Maine Medical Center offers these treatments at The Cynthia A. Rydholm Cancer Treatment Center, which has state-of-the-art radiation therapy services, including EBRT and brachytherapy, and is accredited by the American College of Radiology.
Chemotherapy for Bile Duct Cancer
Chemotherapy is the use of medical drugs to treat cancer. Also known as medical oncology, it involves giving these drugs in the vein (IV) or taking them by mouth. Since they go directly into the bloodstream, they reach all areas of the body.
Like radiation therapy, doctors may not agree on whether chemotherapy is helpful for bile duct cancer. Still, your physician may decide it is useful for your case.
Chemotherapy may be used in one or a combination of several ways to treat bile duct cancer:
- To shrink tumors before surgery to make them smaller and easier to remove
- To lessen the odds that cancer will return after surgery has removed the tumors
- To help people whose cancer can’t be operated on to live longer
- To slow the growth of or reduce the size of tumors that are creating painful symptoms by pressing on nerves.
Central Maine Comprehensive Cancer Center offers our cancer patients who need medical oncologists the services of Hematology-Oncology Associates practice, which is committed to offering the most current, individualized, compassionate and convenient care for cancer patients and their families.