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The specific causes of bile duct cancer, or cholangiocarcinoma, are not yet well understood. In general, the tumors are believed to form as a result of changes to cellular DNA, a chemical that provides the “blueprint” for how cells function. If damaged DNA issues faulty instructions, the cells may grow and divide uncontrollably and remain alive longer than they should. The resulting accumulation of excess cells can bind together and form a tumor, which can potentially become cancerous and spread to other areas of the body.

Research studies into the precise causes of the DNA damage that leads to bile duct cancer are underway. Scientists believe there may be a link between chronic irritation or inflammation of the bile duct and the development of cholangiocarcinoma. Therefore, conditions like bile duct stones, primary sclerosing cholangitis, choledochal cysts, liver fluke infections, cirrhosis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and the hepatitis B and C viruses, as well as abnormalities that cause a backflow of digestive juices into the bile duct, are considered to be risk factors for the condition. Even so, there is no direct causal link – many people have one or more of these risk factors and never develop cholangiocarcinoma, while others who are diagnosed with the malignancy have no known risk factors.

While cancer-related DNA mutations are sometimes present at birth, scientists have not linked many cases of cholangiocarcinoma to inherited DNA damage. Instead, the gene mutations related to the causes of bile duct cancer are usually random events that occur during an individual’s lifetime, such as abnormal changes in the:

  • TP53 tumor suppressor gene
  • KRAS oncogene (oncogenes promote cellular growth, division and viability)
  • HER2 oncogene
  • MET oncogene

Moffitt Cancer Center has received national recognition for its research breakthroughs and robust clinical trials program, both of which help us learn more about the causes of bile duct cancer. Using a bench-to-bedside approach, we quickly incorporate our newly acquired knowledge into tangible prevention, diagnostic and treatment strategies for the benefit for our patients. For these reasons and others, Moffitt has been designated as a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute – the only one based in Florida.

If you’d like to learn more about the causes of bile duct cancer, you can schedule a consultation with the experts at Moffitt by calling 1-888-663-3488 or completing a new patient registration form online. No referrals are required.