What Are Liver, Gallbladder & Bile Duct Cancers?
Together, the liver, gallbladder and bile ducts (tubes) supply the digestive system with bile, a fluid that helps break down food. Bile is produced in the liver, stored in the gallbladder and carried to the intestine by the bile ducts. Cancer of the liver, gallbladder or bile ducts occurs when abnormal cells multiply and form a mass, or tumor.
While the exact causes of these cancers are not clear, they are associated with numerous risk factors, including:
- Chronic conditions, such as diabetes, infection with hepatitis B or C, ulcerative colitis, or cirrhosis of the liver
- Environmental factors, such as smoking, obesity or exposure to toxic substances
- Parasite infection, such as the Chinese liver fluke
In the early stages, liver, gallbladder or bile duct cancer often does not cause symptoms, but may include:
- Abdominal pain, lumps or swelling — These are usually concentrated on the upper right side.
- Fever — The high fever is not accounted for by illness.
- Jaundice — The skin and whites of the eyes will yellow.
- Unexplained weight loss — Weight loss without diet or exercise may be accompanied by loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting.
Treatment options depend on the type and stage of cancer, and may include:
- Ablation — Using heat, cold, electricity, radio waves or ethanol, the cancerous tissue is destroyed.
- Embolization — Blood flow to the tumor is blocked, starving it of oxygen and nutrients.
- Chemotherapy — Oral, injected or intravenous anti-cancer drugs are used to shrink tumors before or after surgery, or to help kill cancer cells when surgery is not an option.
- Radiation therapy — High-energy beams destroy cancer cells or prevent their growth.
- Surgery — All or part of the diseased organ or tumor is removed. In some liver cancer cases, the organ is removed and replaced with a healthy one (liver transplant).
- Targeted therapies — Drugs attack specific weaknesses of cancer cells while sparing healthy cells.
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