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Eur J Cancer. 1998 Jun;34(7):977-86.

The role of chemotherapy and radiation in the management of biliary cancer: a review of the literature.

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  • 1Department of Internal Medicine I, University of Vienna, Austria.


Carcinoma of the biliary tract is a rare tumour. To date, there is no therapeutic measure with curative potential apart from surgical intervention. Thus, patients with advanced, i.e. unresectable or metastatic disease, face a dismal prognosis. They present a difficult problem to clinicians as to whether to choose a strictly supportive approach or to expose patients to the side-effects of a potentially ineffective treatment. The objective of this article is to review briefly the clinical trials available in the current literature utilising non-surgical oncological treatment (radiotherapy and chemotherapy) either in patients with advanced, i.e. locally inoperable or metastatic cancer of the biliary tract or as an adjunct to surgery. From 65 studies identified, there seems to be no standard therapy for advanced biliary cancer. Despite anecdotal reports of symptomatic palliation and survival advantages, most studies involved only a small number of patients and were performed in a phase II approach. In addition, the benefit of adjuvant treatment remains largely unproven. No clear trend in favour of radiation therapy could be seen when the studies included a control group. In addition, the only randomised chemotherapeutic series seemed to suggest a benefit of treatment in advanced disease, but due to the small number of patients included, definitive evidence from large, randomised series concerning the benefit of non-surgical oncological intervention as compared with supportive care is still lacking. Patients with advanced biliary tract cancer should be offered the opportunity to participate in clinical trials.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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