By: Dr. Thomas Incledon
Cancer in my Ampulla of Vater? Sounds like something from Star Wars, not my body. Is that a real thing?
It’s not surprising that people are unfamiliar with ampullary cancer because it is very uncommon. In fact, less than 1% of digestive tract cancers are considered to be ampullary cancer. Unfortunately, as with a lot of other cancers, we are seeing an increase in cases of ampullary cancer. Also, based on the location in the body and similarities to how the cancer forms and can be treated, ampullary cancer is often categorized with pancreatic cancer, even though they are technically not the same thing.
Now that you know what it’s not, what is it?
Ampullary cancer or ampullary carcinoma refers to cancer that occurs in the Ampulla of Vater or hepatopancreatic duct. Basically, this is where the pancreatic and bile ducts connect near the small intestine. “It’s a part of the body that most people don’t know exists until there’s a problem,” says Dr. Tom Incledon, Founder and CEO of Causenta. “The Ampulla of Vater’s job is to push secretions into the small intestine to assist in the digestive process.”
There are a few specific concerns with ampullary cancer:
- Location: As a central part of the digestive system, ampullary cancer can spread to other important organs quickly. The cancer cells can also use the digestive and circulatory systems to travel throughout the body. Once ampullary cancer metastasizes from the original tumor, it can really go anywhere in the body.
- Awareness: Because people are unaware of this body part, symptoms can often go unnoticed or be attributed to another health concern until the cancer has progressed to a later stage.
- Late Diagnosis: Once ampullary cancer is diagnosed, the cancer has usually progressed and spread, limiting treatment options. Ideally with this type of cancer, you want to find it early and surgically remove the tumor for the best long-term results.
- Lack of Research: There is not a lot known about ampullary cancer in the oncology and research fields, so patients with ampullary are faced with a lot of unknowns, including additional treatment strategies and proven effectiveness. Especially in the case of ampullary cancer, it is important to take action quickly; second opinions are not helpful in these cases since every physician is working from the same body of research and information.
Some patients are diagnosed with periampullary cancer; this means that the cancer originated near the Ampulla of Vater in either the head of the pancreas, the distal common bile duct, or the duodenum. As with pancreatic cancer, periampullary cancer has similarities to ampullary cancer, but they are not the same thing.
Ampullary cancer is more common in adults over 50. “We specifically see an increase in cases in men over 50 and women at age 55 and above,” says Incledon. “These increases are small. However, at age 65 for both genders, the rate of this cancer more sharply increases.”
For more information about ampullary cancer and treatment at Causenta, schedule your complimentary 30-minute consultation today.