Let’s Talk About Bile & Bile Duct Cancer2 years ago | Cancer
(Actor Stefan Karl Stefansson with Director Matt August and Actor James Royce Edwards)
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
"It's not until they tell you you're going to die soon that you realize how short life is. Time is the most valuable thing in life because it never comes back. "
Above are wise words posted on Twitter by actor Stefan Karl Stefansson before he recently lost his battle to bile duct cancer. Stefansson, who played Robbie Rotten on the kids’ show “LazyTown,” was reportedly diagnosed with the cancer in 2016. After he had surgery to tackle the cancer, he appeared to be on the road to recovery and cancer-free.
But, unfortunately, in 2018 the cancer returned. It was inoperable. He was only 43-years-old and is survived by his wife and four children.
Like many people, I knew nothing about this type of cancer until I lost my law partner and friend of over 15 years, Vince Acquisto, to bile duct cancer. I was not even aware of what our bile ducts do. And unlike lung, brain and skin cancers, there was very little information in the public domain which talked about this very lethal disease.
It was for this reason that Vince’s wife and I partnered with an all star research team at UCSF Medical Center to learn more about this relatively unknown cancer.
So let’s first start by understanding what bile ducts are.
Bile is a fluid produced by the liver which our body uses to digest fat in our diet. Fat is one of the six nutrients we need to stay alive. (The other five are water, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals). Additionally, bile is responsible for ridding the body of some waste products, like excess cholesterol. The bile ducts are drainage tubes or “pipes” that carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder where it is stored. The common bile duct transports bile from the gallbladder to the small intestines where it helps in the fat digestion.
So as we can see, the biliary system plays a major role in our health.
We previously discussed bile duct blockages. When the bile duct is blocked, the liver cannot excrete bile. This causes bile to back up in the bloodstream and may cause jaundice. Usually, jaundice causes your skin and the whites of your eyes to turn yellow. And lab tests will usually reflect high levels of bilirubin.
A common cause of bile duct blockages are gallstones. But another cause may be bile duct cancer.
“Bile duct cancer does not usually cause signs or symptoms until later in the course of the disease, but sometimes symptoms can appear sooner and lead to an early diagnosis. If the cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, treatment might work better,” according to the American Cancer Society.
“If the cancer blocks the release of bile and pancreatic juices into the intestine, a person might not be able to digest fatty foods. The undigested fat can also cause stools to be unusually pale. They might also be bulky, greasy, and float in the toilet.”
Why does the body need to digest fat?
Fat is what is referred to as a macronutrient. This means that our body needs to utilize it in relatively large amounts to stay healthy. According to the National Institutes of Health, humans need fat as a source of energy.
“They act as messengers, helping proteins do their jobs. They also start chemical reactions that help control growth, immune function, reproduction and other aspects of basic metabolism.”
Fats also protect our organs, insulate our bodies as well as “help the body stockpile certain nutrients as well. The so-called "fat-soluble" vitamins—A, D, E and K—are stored in the liver and in fatty tissues.”
Reportedly, many people with bile duct cancer lose their appetite and may lose weight. And if you have jaundice, it can be difficult for your body to utilize the fat from your diet. It is therefore really important to identify competent medical experts to work with you throughout this process. It may be necessary for you to take good quality supplements to boost your nutritional intake. You may also need to avoid fatty food until you have had treatment to relieve the jaundice.
Read here for the latest information about bile duct cancer and how you can be proactive.
Enjoy your healthy life!
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