A Klatskin tumor is a tumor which forms in the upper region of the bile duct, where the left and right bile ducts meet. This type of tumor is rare. Prognosis for the patient depends on the size of the tumor at the time of diagnosis, whether the left and right bile ducts are also involved, and the patient's general physical condition. Healthy patients with small, minimally involved tumors may recover, while others may have a grimmer prognosis. An experienced physician can evaluate the situation and discuss the prognosis with the patient, including the prognosis with different treatment options.
This tumor is a type of cholangiocarcinoma or bile duct tumor. The causes of bile duct tumors are not known, although people with cystic diseases of the liver, Crohn's disease, and other gastrointestinal diseases appear to be at increased risk of developing cholangiocarcinomas like Klatskin tumors. The tumor is named for the doctor who first described in 1965.
Patients with Klatskin tumors usually develop jaundice as a result of the blockage in the bile duct. They also have symptoms like weight loss, abdominal pain, dark urine, and clay-colored stools. The Klatskin tumor may be visible during medical imaging studies of the liver and bile duct. A biopsy of the liver will show malignant cells.
The best treatment for a Klatskin tumor is resection, in which the tumor is removed, with clean margins to remove any malignant cells which may be associated with the Klatskin tumor. This surgery is performed under general anesthesia. Adjuvant therapy such as chemotherapy and radiation is not usually recommended with surgery. If surgery is not an option because of the tumor's level of involvement, chemotherapy and radiation may be considered, although such tumors are often not very responsive to nonsurgical treatment.
When a patient is diagnosed with a Klatskin tumor, it can be helpful to get as much information possible about the tumor before making decisions about treatment. A doctor should be able to discuss the location of the tumor, the risks and benefits of surgery, and whether or not the candidate may be a good candidate for other treatment options. Because such tumors are rare, not a great deal of research is performed on them, but cancer researchers can and do work with cholangiocarcinomas and options such as drug trials may be available for patients who are willing and interested. Patients should note that people with comorbidities may not be accepted into drug trials.