New tool lets doctors 'spy' on cancer

December 21, 2009 The bile duct is part of what is called the hepatobiliary system, which consists of the liver, gallbladder, bile duct and pancreas. Cancers of this area of the body are often referred to as hepatobiliary cancers, and every year, about 20,000 new cases of such cancer are diagnosed in the United States. These types of cancers have some of the lowest survival rates. The overall survival rate of liver cancer, according to the American Cancer Society, is 10 percent. Numbers for bile duct cancer are more complex. For bile duct cancers that start within the liver, survival after five years is between 20 and 40 percent; for cancers that start where the branches of the bile duct have just left the liver, the 5-year survival rate is 10 to 30 percent; for those cancers that start further down the bile duct, survival after five years is up to 40 percent. For bile duct cancers that cannot be removed through surgery, 5-year survival is 10 percent.

IDENTIFICATION AND TREATMENT: Traditional methods of viewing and treating the bile duct for cancer involves injecting contrast dye through a catheter. "You are basing your whole judgment on contrast injection, so depending on how well the contrast gets to the area, you can then see if there's something else or not," Michel Kahaleh, director of Pancreatico-Biliary Services at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, told Ivanhoe.

Dr. Kahaleh is using a new technique to view and treat this type of cancer that involves using a miniature camera and laser. In the treatment process, called photodynamic therapy (PDT), doctors activate a chemical using light of a specific wavelength, which kills the cancer cells. One study at the University of Virginia found combining PDT with stent therapy doubled survival rates for patients with cancer of the liver bile duct. After five years of treatment, those who received PDT combined with stents survived 16.2 months, whereas those treated with stents alone survived 7.4 months.


Abena Foreman
Public Relations
University of Virginia Health System
(434) 243-2734

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