Background: Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are anthropogenic, organic compounds. Although banned in the 1970s, PCBs are poorly biodegradable and hence ubiquitous in the environment. They accumulate in adipose tissue and are implicated various malignancies, including breast and pancreatic cancer. The hepatobiliary system is the main excretory route for such xenobiotic toxins. Incidence rates of intrahepatic biliary tract cancer are increasing worldwide. Measurement and comparison of PCB levels in bile from human patients with benign and malignant bile duct disease has not previously been done.
Objectives: To compare PCB concentrations in bile from patients with malignant (n=8) and non-malignant (n=7) biliary disease.
Methods and results: Fifteen human bile samples, collected endoscopically, were analysed using gas chromatography mass spectrometry for seven target PCB congeners (28, 52, 101, 118, 153, 138, and 180), known to occur in the environment and food. Amongst males, total PCB concentrations in bile ranged from 6 ng mL(-1) (aged 73 years) to 49 ng mL(-1) (aged 90 years); and in females between 8 ng mL(-1) (aged 33 years) to 43 ng mL(-1) (aged 67 years) bile. Although there was no overall difference in mean PCB levels between non-cancer and cancer patients, levels of congener 28 were significantly higher in patients with biliary tract cancer (p<0.05).
Conclusions: Despite the banning of PCBs over 30 years ago, these xenobiotics are present in the bile of patients with biliary disease. PCB levels tend to increase with age, suggesting chronic bioaccumulation. Further research is necessary to investigate the relevance of increased levels of congener 28 in bile in biliary tract cancer.