Ampullary Cancer: What Are the Basics

Ampullary Cancer: What Are the Basics

Those days are long gone when a cancer diagnosis automatically means a death sentence, as medicine has improved tremendously in the last decades. However, science still has a lot of work to do to be able to cure all types of cancer in all its phases. One incredible fact is that more than half of the cancers out there are preventable.

About 7 percent of cancers that have their origin in the periampullary area of the human body result in ampullary cancer. In other words, ampullary cancer represents a rare form of cancer. Thanks to Johns Hopkins Medicine’s official website (, we can now learn the basics about ampullary cancer.

What are the symptoms?

Ampullary cancer forms in the ampulla of Vater, meaning a part of our bodies located in the small intestine. The ampulla of Vater also represents the region where the pancreatic and bile ducts release secretions into the intestines.

Ampullary cancer remains a type of cancer that can certainly kill the patient. However, there’s a 5-year survival rate that ranges from roughly 20% to as high as 75% in the case of patients who are treated with the Whipple procedure.

The most common symptom of ampullary cancer is jaundice, meaning the yellowing of the eyes and skin. However, the full list of symptoms is much larger, and it includes:

  • Back pain
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • abdominal pain
  • Pruritus (skin itchiness)
  • Vomiting
  • Pale and greasy stools
  • gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Diarrhea
  • Pancreatitis

How is ampullary cancer diagnosed?

Blood tests and urine tests could be included as the tests the healthcare providers will do while trying to find out if the patient suffers from ampullary cancer or not. CT, MRI scans, or ultrasounds could also be used to look for any tumor forming inside the ampulla of Vater.

Endoscopy represents another way that healthcare providers will try to determine if a patient is dealing with ampullary cancer or not. This method involves a thin scope with a small video camera being introduced in the patient’s mouth and all the way into the duodenum after surpassing the esophagus and the stomach.

Healthcare providers can also choose endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) or magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP) to check the pancreatic and bile ducts.

How can ampullary cancer be treated?

The usual way of trying to get a patient rid of his ampullary cancer is to eliminate the tumor from the ampulla of Vater through the Whipple procedure, which is also known as pancreaticoduodenectomy.

The procedure can sometimes even be performed using endoscopic instruments. Small incisions in the person’s belly will be performed in order to introduce long and narrow tools and a small video camera. In this way, doctors won’t be forced to perform too much cutting, and the patient won’t have to lose too much blood. Furthermore, the patient will recover faster from the surgery than it would in the case of other surgeries.

However, even after the surgery is done, the patient might still not get rid of chemotherapy and possible radiation therapy. However, not all healthcare providers see chemo as necessary for this type of cancer.

However, we need to keep in mind that another procedure, such as using a laser in order to destroy the tumor, might be used in the case of those patients who can’t tolerate a Whipple procedure.


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