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Cancer Care

Hepatobiliary cancer

Community offers specialists who can provide diagnosis and treatment for hepatobiliary cancers that start in the liver, bile ducts or gallbladder and pancreas.

To make an appointment for hepatobiliary cancer treatment, please call 800-777-7775.

Types of hepatobiliary cancers

The hepatobiliary (HPB) system refers to the liver, gall bladder and bile ducts, and how they work together to make bile. Cancers can affect all the organs in this system. When discussing cancers, the pancreas is often grouped with hepatobiliary cancers because of its connection to the bile ducts and role in the digestive process. Learn more about each type below.

The liver is the largest organ in the body, located below the right lung. Its function is to remove toxins and waste from the body and produce bile to help with digestion. About 33,000 new cases of primary liver cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 20141, although it is much more common in other parts of the world where hepatitis B infections are common (e.g., sub-Saharan Africa). Primary liver cancer (that has not spread from other parts of the body) is much more common in men than women and in people with chronic liver disease, such as cirrhosis or hepatitis B or C. Obesity, high alcohol intake and inherited metabolic diseases are also risk factors. Treatment options for liver cancer may include surgery to remove the tumor, tumor ablation, tumor embolization, radiation therapy, targeted therapy and chemotherapy.

Gallbladder cancer is a relatively rare cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, about 10,500 new cases will be diagnosed in 20143. The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ that sits below the liver, behind the ribs. Bile produced by the liver is stored in the gallbladder and released as needed. The gallbladder is not an essential organ; people can live healthy lives if the gallbladder is removed. 

Gallbladder cancer typically strikes older people (aged 70 and above). It is more common among Mexican Americans, southwestern Native Americans, and people from certain South American countries, particularly Chile. Risk factors include gallstones and inflammation, obesity, family history, polyps and others. Treatment options for gallbladder cancer may include surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Bile duct cancer is a rare cancer; about 2,000 to 3,000 people in the United States develop bile duct cancer each year4. It typically occurs in older people over age 65. Bile duct cancer is much more common in Asia and the Middle East. Risk factors include diseases of the liver or bile ducts, including chronic inflammation (ulcerative cholitis), bile duct stones, choledochal cysts, smoking, diabetes and others. Treatment for bile duct cancer may include surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. In 2014, more than 46,000 people will be diagnosed with it2. The cancer starts in the tissues of the pancreas, an organ that lies behind the lower part of the stomach. Cancer in the pancreas spreads fast and symptoms are often not apparent until the cancer is at an advanced stage, which is why it is a leading cause of cancer deaths. Exocrine pancreatic cancer is the most common type; endocrine pancreatic cancer is less common. Risk factors for pancreatic cancer include smoking, obesity, age 55 and older, African American race, pancreatitis, genetic factors, family history and diabetes. Treatment options for pancreatic cancer may include surgery, ablation, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Cancer care team

Dr. Thomas Howard is a board-certified hepatobiliary specialist and surgeon with more than 20 years of experience treating liver, gallbladder, bile duct and pancreatic cancers and related diseases.

Make an appointment

If you have questions about hepatobiliary cancers, or would like to make an appointment for cancer evaluation, please call 800-777-7775.


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